The University of North Alabama has had the highest enrollment of international students this fall than they have had in many years.
The International Affairs Office reported that 168 new international students arrived on campus this past semester, which increased the total of international student enrollment to 350 students.
“[The international students] all came at the last minute and in the same week,” said Cala Flippo, the student success coordinator. “One night, we picked up 78 in two buses and rented a Penske truck.”
For these students, however, the process for enrolling was anything, but “the last minute.” Typically, they have to complete a number of requirements before they are able to attend the university.
Before an international student can apply, they have to pay a $100 application fee. Students can find the application at una.edu/internationalaffairs under “Forms.”
First, the application asks for students’ credit card information. Then, it requires them to put in their admissions information, personal data, test scores and emergency contact information. Lastly, the application asks for students’ signature to agree to the terms.
“All the requirements are the same with the domestic students,” said Akali Fulmer, International Admissions Specialist.
The only difference is those international students are asked to submit a financial document showing at least $27,000 in their savings account for undergraduate admission and $25,000 for graduate students.
On top of that, students are also required to take a TOEFL or IELTS, which are an English proficiency tests. Undergraduates must obtain 5.5 IELTS or a TOEFL of 61, whereas graduates must obtain a TOEFL of 79 or 6.0 on the IELTS.
“We also require statement of purpose so once they submit the required documents then we review,” Fulmer said. “I do [most of the evaluations] because I have a handbook, which I always refer to. Once a student submits all of their application requirements and the admission decision has been made, we pass it down for I-20.”
An I-20 form is a certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant student status.
“Students who are out of the country obviously need to come here and in nearly all cases, that requires a student visa,” said Sarah Stevens, Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) coordinator.
There are two main types of visas provided to international students. There are F-1 visas, which allow them to enter the U.S. as a full-time student at an accredited college, and J-1 visas, which offer cultural and educational exchange opportunities in the U.S. through a variety of programs overseen by the U.S. State Department.
“[The International Affairs Office] produces a document that is taken to a US consulate in whichever country they’re in,” Stevens said. “They make an appointment and they fill out the application. It’s 200 dollars, I believe, for them to book the appointment. In case for the F-1, there’s a 350 dollar fee that they have to pay to a different branch of the U.S. government and it’s a little less for the J-1.”
Steven said one of the things that is listed on the document is a financial ability to cover the cost of living in the US.
“International students have limited options when it comes to working in the United States,” Stevens said. “So, we have to include on their document that they supplied resources to cover a year of school. That is why it’s 27,000 dollars instead of 10,000 or 12,000 because they have to show they can pay for two semesters.”
In the case of the J-1 visa, students would actually have to show they can cover the entire time they are going to be at UNA. This is a “big sticking point” when they get to the visa interview.
“A visa interview can typically take two minutes or less,” Stevens said. “[International students] wait a long time for their 500 dollars and [the visa officer] makes a judgement based on a lot of paper work and an impression as to whether [the student] is legitimately intending to go to the United States for the purpose of study and intend to return to your home country. That is what’s called non-immigrant intent.”
Stevens said students have to have enough evidence to prove that, which is very “subjective.”
“If you’re from a country that is prosperous and stable, it’s pretty easy to get a visa because they assume life is good and you’re going to come back,” Stevens said. “So, if you’re from Japan, it’s pretty easy. If you’re from a country with a lot of instability, a lot of poverty that level of function, it’s a lot harder because they assume you’re going to go to the United States and go, ‘Oh, it’s so nice here. I just want to stay,’ and neither of the student visas is for that purpose. It is to go, to study, and to return. If you can’t supply sufficient evidence, it’s really hard to prove a negative.”
Some international students have strong documentation, they have a more than sufficient financial resources, their parents have a very stable job; however, it’s just based on how the visa officer feels sometimes. At least, this is what the International Affairs Office suspects.
“Honestly, there’s a big curtain pulled and we don’t know,” Stevens said. “You get an impression over time. India is one of those countries, where it’s almost you feel you pick up the dice, you shake it, and it’s either a yes or a no.”
The visa officer never gives the office a reason why the students are being denied.
“They get a very typical legalized explanation,” Stevens said. “They don’t get a personal like, ‘I didn’t think you were legit,’ they get a ‘under the law…’ [By then] they are already 500 dollars plus our application fee into the process, and those are nonrefundable.”
After international students receive a visa, they get an online orientation and begin to communicate with Flippo in Student Services. She directs them to the UNA pre-arrival page, where they can see that they need for apply to housing, turn in their immunization records and all standard things “domestic” students have to do.
“[International students] have to pay out-of-state tuition,” Flippo said. “They also have to pay a 300 dollar international fee a semester for the extra services that our office has to provide for them. They are required to have health insurance but it is also for repatriation. This means that if they were to die when they were on this side then they have insurance that would pay to return their body back to their country or if they were ill and needed to go back home.”
Repatriation has never happened on UNA’s campus, according to the members of the International Affairs Office.
Flippo said that while there are some difficulties in the classroom because English is not their first language, international students have met the same academic requirements to be here as the domestic student.
International students do have faculty in Powers Hall who can provide instruction for learning English as a second language, but they would have to pay $6,200 a semester.
“So if a student isn’t able to provide a test score on their IELTS or their TOFEL, they can come here with a conditional admission, study English first until they pass the courses and then start into academic,” Stevens said. “It’s a way to move forward, if you don’t have [the proper test scores] but a lot of people worked to get that language proficiency before they come because that’s just extra money on top of things.”
Although International students are expected to come to the U.S. with enough finances to cover the cost of living, they can obtain money by working up to 20 hours on campus or receiving academic scholarships.
Flippo said it is a work in progress on trying to make sure all international students feel at home.
“I feel like in the last few years that we’re making progress, that the attitude of our campus is more welcoming,” Flippo said. “International students have all of the campus resources available that domestic students do, but we go out of our way to have special things that meet their needs because sometimes they do have extra needs. They pay way more to attend the university here than our domestic students.”