October 8, 2013

Cornell International Community May Feel Effects of Government Shutdown

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Ranging from work authorization issues to adverse effects on foreign currencies, the U.S. government shutdown could significantly affect the international community at Cornell, according to students and University administrators.

Following Congress’ failure to pass a spending bill by Oct. 1 that would fund government functions for the upcoming fiscal year, all government agencies deemed “nonessential” have been closed. Additionally, many employees have been furloughed, or forced to take temporary unpaid leave.

The international community at Cornell will feel ripple effects of the shutdown, with the “most profound impact” on visiting faculty members at Cornell, according to Brendan O’Brien, director of the International Students and Scholars Office.

“I think that the most profound impact [of the government shutdown] will be on visiting faculty members at Cornell,” he said. “They may not be able to extend their work authorization or might experience difficulty with the application process for permanent residency.”

The difficulty international visiting faculty might face with work authorization will affect the hiring of international faculty, and consequently, academic programs at Cornell, O’Brien said. “As the Department of Labor is not functioning currently, it is not possible to gain approval for H-1B temporary worker visas or permanent residence,” he said. “This will cause great difficulty for the University, and our research and teaching programs will be impacted.”

However, applications for practical training — authorization that enables international students to work off-campus — will mostly stay unaffected, according to O’Brien.

“Whenever students apply for [optional] practical training, they have to pay a fee for $380,” he said. “Those operations should continue, and students should receive their work authorization.”

However, the shutdown might affect work authorization process for students without a Social Security number due to limited functioning of the U.S. Social Security Administration, according to O’Brien. “The application process requires students to apply for a Social Security Number,” he said. “As of now, the Social Security office is not accepting new applications. If a student doesn’t already have a [Social Security Number], they may have difficulties with their employers.”

Most student visa applications, which are revenue-driven operations, will not be affected by the shutdown, according to O’Brien. “Most of the operations related to student visa applications and extensions, and student work authorization are supported by the application fees, which are paid by international students,” he said.

O’Brien added that international students could experience travel disruptions due to the shutdown. “With all the disruptions of the government shutdown, processing times for visa applications may increase, and international students could experience travel disruptions or delays,” he said.

Inaccessible government websites is the primary concern for many international students involved in research, according to Kushagra Aniket ’15, a student from India.

“[The] number one concern for many international students, especially graduate students, is that those involved in research are not able to access a lot of data [since] government websites like U.S. Census and the [Environment Protection Agency] are down,” he said.

“The latter has also hindered my research.” The shutdown affecting the U.S. debt ceiling debate is also a major concern for many international students paying tuition in foreign currencies that might be adversely affected, according to Aniket.

“Some people might be apprehensive about the upcoming debt ceiling debate due to its effect on currencies and exchange rates,” he said. “Many say that if the debt ceiling is not raised, then other currencies might be adversely affected.”

Jadey Kartikawati Huray ’14, a student from Singapore, said that her day-to-day life has not been impacted by the shutdown. However, she said she was surprised by the lack of discussion on campus regarding the event.

“I actually haven’t felt that affected in terms of my day-to-day operations,” Huray said. “I am surprised that there hasn’t been much discussion or engagement about the issue on campus or a recognition of the impact on government workers and their families.” O’Brien said that there is some uncertainty surrounding the effects of the shutdown on international students.

“We can’t be absolutely certain how the shutdown will impact our international population at Cornell. But, we will do our best to assist anyone who is experiencing difficulty during these times,” he said. The shutdown’s interference with contributions made by the University’s international community is unfortunate, according to O’Brien.

“We are hopeful that government operations will return to normal soon,” he said. “International students and scholars make a great contribution to Cornell, and it would be extremely unfortunate if the government shutdown interferes with those contributions.”