WSU stands with its international scholars

Flags from various countries.
Photo by Vladislav Klapin

Washington State University firmly supports the many international scholars affected by the recent federal action to block new H-1B visas and is working with congressional members and others to advocate on their behalf.

“We’re going to do everything we can as a university to support our international students and scholars during this challenging time,” said Kate Hellmann, director of WSU’s International Student and Scholar Services, part of the Office of International Programs. “WSU values its international community and the many social, cultural and educational contributions they make to the university and our country.”

The international scholars who already have these visas will not be directly impacted, but the university is advising them not to leave the country because they will risk jeopardizing their work status. The suspension of new H-1B visas is expected to last until the end of the year.

Currently, 78 WSU faculty and researchers have these visas, which are designed to allow people with highly specialized skills to work in the United States. Another 55 scholars on H-1B visas are due to start or continue their appointments at WSU this fall. At least two are stuck outside the country, unable to start on campus on their planned date. This latest action compounds the stress on WSU’s international community as many scholars and students also face challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

WSU’s Office of Federal Relations is working to support the university’s H-1B scholars with all of the state’s congressional delegation.

“There really is broad, bi-partisan support for our international students and scholars who may utilize H-1B visas,” said Glynda Becker-Fenter, assistant vice president for federal engagement and advocacy. “This office will continue to be a voice for our international community with members of congress, our trade association and industry partners.”

Becker-Fenter added that WSU is also collaborating with many of the university’s industry partners that have a Washington D.C. presence, including Schweitzer Engineering Lab, Microsoft and Amazon, who rely on specialized workers on these visas. The president and chief technology officer of Schweitzer Engineering Lab, whose headquarters are in Pullman, recently wrote a letter to President Trump arguing for the importance of being able to recruit employees with H-1B visas.

“The people who come to the United States on H-1B visas help drive the innovation and economics of the state in many ways,” Hellman said. “They’re highly qualified people and have a great capacity to assist the university and its research efforts. They are also central to our mission to create an inclusive community that supports diversity.”

The recent suspension does not directly impact students and scholars on WSU-sponsored J-1 visas, which allow them to participate in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs, or the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program that allows students with F-1 visas to work from one to three years in their field of study before or after graduating. However, many with these visas face difficult challenges because of COVID-19. Their visas allow them to work only on campus, which has been largely shut down because of the pandemic, and travel restrictions won’t allow them to go back to their home countries.

WSU is working to provide support for the many international scholars and students struggling to get through this challenging time.

Also, International Programs has deployed its International Emergency Fund at ip.wsu.edu/on-campus/support-international-students to collect donations that will help students with basic expenses.

For questions about the H-1B visa restrictions, international scholars can contact ip.scholars@wsu.edu.

International students with concerns can email ip.intlservices@wsu.edu.

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