International Student Forum Q+A

The Office of International Affairs and the Graduate Life Office hosted a forum with leaders of the campus community so international students and scholars could get answers to questions and concerns that have arisen since the U.S. presidential election. This is an uncertain time, but we have tried to answer these questions to the best of our ability.

We don’t know how quickly things will change or to what extent, but we will remain in touch with our international community with regular monthly updates. We are fully committed to the education of our international students and to their success here at Lehigh and after graduation. If you have any questions, please contact our office or one of the numerous other resources on campus.

Visa and Immigration

Will there be any immediate changes to student/scholar visa status?

No. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 spells out all the visa categories and pursuant to that act and applicable regulations, there are rules and regulations governing visas issues. In order to eliminate a visa category, that law would need to change, which requires an act of Congress and signature by the president. This would be a long process that would involve discussion with many interested parties, including the nation’s 4,500+ colleges and universities, as well as hospitals, businesses and others.

Will there be changes to the H1B visa program?

We don’t know, but any changes will require a lengthy process that includes plenty of public discussion, as explained above.

Will I be able to travel to my home country and return to the United States with a valid visa?

With a valid visa, you should be able to reenter the country. Customs and Border Protection officers have assured us that they will continue to admit students and scholars on these visas.

How will Lehigh support students if they can’t get a visa on their way back from home?

We are committed to making sure our students remain in good standing at the university and can continue and complete their studies. If you have trouble reentering the United States, please contact the Office of International Students and Scholars and your academic department and advisor so we can work with you on any accommodations necessary. Each situation is different, but most of the time, we can work with you so you can continue your work.

Can your visa be canceled after you’re here?

It’s been known to happen. For example, the U.S. Department of State has said that if you get arrested for driving under the influence, your visa will be invalidated and if you leave the U.S., you will need to apply again and go through additional background checks. Please note that this is only relevant when you travel internationally as you can continue to remain in the U.S. in valid F-1 or J-1 status even if the visa in your passport expires or is terminated as long as your underlying Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 remains valid.

Will there be changes to OPT and F-1 extensions for graduate students, specifically for students who come from countries with majority Muslim populations?

We don’t know. In the past, new additional eligibility requirements for travel under the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens or nationals of 38 participating countries to travel to the United States for short visits without obtaining a visa, have been put into place. For example, even if an individual is a citizen of a country that is eligible to use the Visa Waiver Program, if the individual has traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country), or is also a national of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria, that individual cannot use the Visa Waiver Program, and must obtain a visitor’s visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Accordingly, if the government further limits eligibility, it will most likely be based on nationality or countries visited, not on religion.

Will there be any changes to filing invitation letters for family members to visit me for graduation?

We have not heard that this process will change. Please continue to follow the usual process for inviting friends and family to visit. Parents and friends visiting on tourist visas or the Visa Waiver Program for short durations should not have any issues entering the United States. Please note that Chinese nationals holding a 10-year B-1/B-2, B-1 or B-2 visa are required to periodically update their biographical information in EVUS (Electronic Visa Update System) in order to successfully enter the U.S. with their valid tourist visa.  

Will the new administration affect my chances of getting a job in the United States after graduation?

The ability of international students and scholars to get a job in the United States after graduation depends on whether there are changes to the regulations. At this point, we don’t anticipate any significant change between what current recent graduates experience and what future graduates will face. Career Services and Lehigh as a whole are committed to helping all students achieve success after graduation.

What is the university’s policy on sharing student information with government authorities?

We have policies and procedures in place to protect your personal information.  The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.  We may disclose, without your consent, “directory” information such as your name, home and University address, mailbox number, home and University phone numbers, date and place of birth, etc. (a complete list can be found under FERPA FAQ for Faculty at the link provided above).  Otherwise, generally, we must have written permission from you in order to release information from your education record.  However, there are certain exceptions to that rule that may be applicable with respect to government authorities.  For example, we may provide information from your student record to comply with an order of court or a lawfully issued subpoena.  We may also provide information to the Department of Homeland Security in order to maintain your status in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS).

Do you anticipate restrictions on the ability of students to participate in research projects based on their country of origin?

The United States already has export control laws and regulations as well as economic sanctions regulations in place, but they do not typically impact the kind of research currently conducted by the university. If you’re not already subject to restrictions, they probably don’t apply to you. We don’t yet know if the U.S. government will expand these restrictions.

What can I do if my advisor is not familiar with working with international students and visa issues that affect academics?

The Office of International Students and Scholars works closely with advisors and administrators to help them learn about visa and immigration issues. Please contact our office for help. We can talk to your advisor.

How long can you stay in the United States after your visa expires?

A valid visa gets you into the United States. To maintain legal status while you’re here, you need to 1) keep your passport valid at least six months into the future at all times; and 2) have a valid I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1) and maintain your full time student status. If you are a J-1 scholar, you must maintain required health insurance coverage and engage only in activities permitted under your program and category that are specified on your DS-2019.  

F-1 students can legally remain in the US for up to 60 days following the completion of their program. If an F-1 student applies for and is approved for the Optional Practical Training (OPT), they are legally authorized to stay and work in their field of study in the U.S. after graduation for the duration of the authorized OPT. J-1 students and scholars have a 30-day grace period in which they can stay and travel within the U.S. J-1 students have the option of applying for Academic Training, which will allow them to work in the U.S. in their field of study for the duration of the authorized AT. Please always contact OISS with any questions.

Campus Climate and Safety

What is Lehigh’s policy toward free speech if it is offensive?

Lehigh is committed to freedom of speech. The Policy on Freedom of Thought, Inquiry and Expression, And Dissent by Students, as outlined in the Student Handbook, applies to students. The Policy on Academic Freedom applies to faculty and is outlined in Section 2.1.1 (pp. 44-45) of the Rules and Procedures of the Faculty. And the Principles of Our Equitable Community affirm the value of freedom of speech and academic freedom.

But these freedoms are not absolute. Speech or actions that create a hostile or offensive environment are prohibited. The Equal Opportunity Compliance Coordinator investigates allegations of harassment or bias on a case by case basis and takes appropriate actions.

How do I determine if a comment or action is offensive and if I should report it?

The Equal Opportunity Compliance Coordinator (EEOC) oversees the investigation of all reports and complaints of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and sexual misconduct and the enforcement of university policies addressing these topics. The EEOC also oversees the university’s response to bias incidents. If you’re concerned about an interaction or have questions, please contact the EEOC—Karen A. Salvemini, Esq., at (610) 758-3535 or eocc@lehigh.edu. She can walk through the next steps with you.

You can also contact the Lehigh University Police Department at (610) 758-4200, especially if you feel unsafe.

Microaggressions are small, everyday insensitive comments or actions. They may be made with or without malice, but they’re still impactful. If you have questions about this, contact us and we can work through it. In addition, any time there’s a major change like this, you may be feeling uncertain, which leads to stress. If you’re feeling more stress or sadness, or otherwise need help, you can contact the Counseling Center, the Health and Wellness Center, or the Dean of Students Office.

Have you heard many xenophobic comments on campus?

There has been no increase in reports of xenophobic comments or other bias or harassment incidents since the election.

Should I be concerned about leaving campus and walking around Bethlehem?

Lehigh has partnered with the city of Bethlehem on several initiatives to ensure that the neighborhoods surrounding campus are safe for students and other residents. These initiatives include the Community Ambassadors Program, community policing, and safety and security programs like the EmergenSee smartphone app that connects users directly with LUPD dispatchers in the event of a dangerous situation.

I am concerned about increased violence on campus. How do I protect myself?

Lehigh University takes campus safety very seriously. We are generally a safe community and we’ve received very few reports of intimidation. The University Police Department, located at 321 East Packer Avenue, operates round the clock throughout the year. You can call them at any time at (610) 758-4200 (8-4200 from any university telephone). In addition, the EmergenSee smartphone app connects users directly with LUPD dispatchers in the event of a dangerous situation. Please follow these links for additional safety tips and emergency information.

How do I feel safe practicing my religion?

Everybody on this campus and in the United States has the constitutional right to practice their religion without interference. Islamophobia and violence against Muslims or any other religious group have no place at Lehigh. There is a Musalah (prayer room) for Muslim members of the Lehigh community in the Dialogue Center, which provides space and resources to enhance the “ethical and spiritual development” of all those who live and work at Lehigh. In addition, if you feel unsafe, you can contact the LUPD. The police are here to protect your constitutional rights.

Are the president-elect’s views truly representative of all Americans or that of the Bethlehem community?

With more than 300 million people in the United States, there is a broad range of opinion. We are committed to creating opportunities for dialogue through events like the Council for Equitable Community’s series Tackling Tough Topics Together and the many organizations committed to nurturing a welcoming and inclusive campus environment.