My American Story by Joyce Gathirimu Cont...

Challenges as a New International Student in America 

Once I had registered with the college and enrolled for the classes, it was time to settle down and since I did not have any friends or relatives that could help me, I had to depend on the International office to assist me.

The first problem I encountered was when I realized that the $ 4,000 tuition fee I had paid did not cover expenses such as books, food and health insurance, which is compulsory for all students. So with the money that I had carried for my own personal expenses, I paid up all these expenses and was left with barely enough to see me through the semester.

I was optimistic that I could find employment the next week and so at that moment I was not really worried about that. The college assisted the international students to apply for the Social Security Card (SSN) which is a number issued to citizens, permanent residents and temporary (working) residents under section 205(c)(2) of the Social Security Act, code.

The number is issued to an individual by the Social Security Administration, an agency of the federal government with the primary purpose of tracking working individuals for taxation purposes and Social Security benefits.

However, in recent years, the SSN has become a de facto national identification number even though it is not supposed to be used as a form of identification. Payroll, university student records, credit records, rental records and drivers licenses are sometimes indexed by Social Security number, making it nearly impossible to live without one.

Our cards came with a stamp, “Not Authorized to work without INS authorization” and I immediately sensed trouble. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revised its rules on assigning the SSN to international students.

Like all other applicants, F-1 Visa holders (international students fall in this class), have to submit evidence of age, identity, immigration status and work authorization.

A student must now provide evidence that he/she has been authorized to work, and has secured employment or has a promise of employment before the SSN is issued.

Previously, this was not a requirement. It is important to note that an international student can only work 20 hours a week in-campus and can only work off-campus with DHS authorization.

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