When I decided to come abroad to the USA to do my second PhD, I knew that being an immigrant in another country would have its fair share of disappointments at my innability to access the same benefits that someone born in the USA, or someone who has been granted a green card, has. I knew I would be treated as a non-resident alien –yes, not even a human being, but an alien–, and I was fine with that. After all, it is only reasonable, I’m here invading your country so I can get an education, right?
As an F1 visa holder, you are told you can only work 20 hours a week, when in reality you are expected to work 40+ hours on the salary of 20 hours, and being international, you are not given the option to supplement your income by doing any kind of LEGAL work. The only times the rule is “broken” is during the breaks, when school is out. I can’t get a job at any place, though. No working at the local burger joint, or at the aquarium. No. The university is the only place I can get a job.
Some people might say “But you’re studying. You shouldn’t be doing anything else”, and I won’t say that I totally agree with you, but I can see your point. I’m studying and that is the purpose of my trip, so I shouldn’t work… Yet, regardless if we are in complete agreement or not, my wings are still clipped.
In my eyes, and I hope that in everyone’s eyes too, I’m not only a student. I’m also a human being, a human being with wants and dreams. In my case, I’m also a writer, yet if I wanted to sell my book once I finish it, I can’t. It would be considered an additional income, and if so, bye-bye visa.
Also, if I were a painter, I wouldn’t be able to sell my paintings without having my visa revoked.
If I made sculptures, they would stand tall and disappointed in a nook in my small appartment, without seeing the light of day, or else…
As much as this situation frustrates and hurts my feelings, and considering that it is also temporary, I don’t mind it… much. I can always wait until I finish my studies and sell everything together, or even space it out while I work on more projects.
However, that particualar frustration isn’t what brought on this rant.
As a lover of all things writing, I also participate–or should I say now, participated– in the writing center at my university, helping other students with their writing tasks– be those homework, a research paper, or their thesis. I found this new love through a class I took, and now I don’t ever want to go without it.
In my duties as a writing tutor, I don’t correct people’s grammar, nor do I tell them what to write. A writing tutor is someone who is like a sounding board; someone you can tell your ideas for your writing and they can help you organize them; someone who will help you understand how a text works and how to apply that knowledge into your own writing. In a nutshell, a writing tutor is someone who will give you strategies to help you on your journey of telling your story in the best possible way.
I was lucky enough that I was given the opportunity to work for the writing center this summer, supplementing my income enough so that when my phone decided to take a dip into the river and have its screen craked by the floor a mere two hours later, I was able to get a new one –and there went my savings for the year. What? You thought I could save money with the salary of a student?
I told them I love doing this, that I know you can’t pay me. I told them I enjoy it so much that I want to keep doing it. FOR FREE!!!
I honestly don’t care if I don’t get paid. I’m not doing it for the money.
I’m doing it because I love seeing the smile on the faces of the people I have worked with. It’s the most amazing feeling when you see them finally manage to work through the block they had. I’m doing it because I love to be able to talk to them about writing and opening their eyes to the power that knowing how to phrase an idea can give you.
The people at the Graduate Writing Center were happy to have me along. They were sad they couldn’t pay me, but they were happy to have me anyway and work with me.
Anyway, as all good things, it had to come to an end.
As summer rolls to its end and fall semester starts, I now have to stop tutoring.
Why? Because the law says so.
I think it is terribly unfair that when the staff at the university found out that an international student was “working” at the writing center, and even after finding out that I wasn’t being paid, I was asked to refrain from volunteering my time, just because it can pay other people and not me. As they said, and I quote, “Regrettably, since everyone else is being paid for that work, it is not appropriate for you to do it on a volunteer basis – that is not in alignment with labor concerns of the University.” I understand that this is a problem with the immigration law, not the people of the university. The law says “…and the services provided by the volunteer should not be the same services for which he or she was previously paid and/or expects to be hired and paid for in the future;”, so that volunteering my time is also being considered as employment.
I find it not only ridiculous, but also frustrating.
Some might think, they’re trying to prevent people from being exploited, but is it exploitation when I had full knowledge of the fact that I couldn’t –can’t– get paid, and I was –am– still happy to do it anyway?
I was the one who chooses to volunteer my hours. I was the one prepared to go beyond my work time and dedicate time to an activity that empowers others.
I wasn’t taking resources from the university. I wasn’t out to make my fortune with my tutoring. I was being a resource for them.
It was my choice, and the law is taking away my choice of helping others.
Yeah, yeah, it’s the law…
In this case, the law sucks…