Graduate students push to expand OISS
International graduate students have listed the office’s expansion as a top priority in conversations with University administrators.
Courtesy of Nicola Angeli
International graduate students at Yale are calling for expanded staffing and funding for the Office of International Students and Scholars.
The OISS, an administrative body responsible for working with over 6,000 international students and scholars at Yale, assists students in the legal immigration process and supports them with their immigration status, travel plans and social support. The call to expand OISS by the ad-hoc international student committee of the Graduate Student Assembly comes within the context of a growing international student body at Yale. Currently, 39 percent of the graduate student body in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are international students.
The committee is asking administrators and the FAS-SEAS faculty senate to ensure increased staffing for OISS, greater investments to help students pay the financial cost of the visa renewal process and the distribution of a survey to gauge international students’ needs.
“Essentially [the OISS] is the interface of Yale with the international community,” Nicola Angeli GRD ’25, who leads the committee, told the News. “I’m very impressed with how much they can accomplish with relatively little resources, so we really would like to boost their reach and activities by increasing their funding.”
Don Filer, who serves as Associate Vice President for Global Strategy, told the News that OISS “does an excellent job” of meeting the needs of the international community at Yale.
Students, however, say that a growing number of international graduate students on campus has increased demand for limited OISS services.
Graduate Student Assembly President Jo Machesky GRD ’24 told the News that advocating for increased funding and publicity for OISS is one of the group’s top priorities. She added that the international student committee would be meeting with administrators and putting together recommendations for changes or enhancements for OISS.
“Many students have reported that [OISS is] understaffed, which can make it hard for them to support the growing number of international graduate students and allow all students to access their fantastic programming,” Machesky wrote in an email to the News.
Angeli told the News that faculty play a large role in supporting international students, and need to be more familiar with work hour limitations as well as policies for those on an F1 student visa. Often, Angeli said, a misunderstanding of what international students are and are not allowed to do on a work visa can make them vulnerable to legal troubles.
“This creates situations in which the students trust the professor who, in good faith, asked [the student] to do some extra work,” Angeli said. “And this could lead to situations that are borderline illegal.”
At a January FAS faculty senate meeting, Angeli told faculty leadership that the Senate could help by encouraging a closer collaboration between academic departments and the OISS. With this, according to Angeli, professors could become more familiar with policies ranging from visa limitations regulating research assistantships to updates on immigration law which are relevant to graduate students.
Angeli also told the News that he hopes that greater funding for OISS could not only allow them to increase staffing but also to help reimburse international graduate students the fee that they incur from visa applications.
He said that this is the case at several other universities, like the New York University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, which offers up to $200 of reimbursement to cover visa-related costs.
“Since Yale is an extremely wealthy university, I think they should offer this [reimbursement] service,” he said. “If it’s not possible to get it for everyone, at least those who are more in need should get it.”
Jingjun Liu GRD ’26, a committee member, told the News that international students often face visa issues — which an expanded OISS that is better integrated with the Yale community could help resolve.
By making departments familiar with such policies, Liu said, the office could be better equipped to waive fees which provide the “necessary condition for us to work and study.”
“That’s why it’s important to make sure that you have enough resources to reach out and OISS is probably the only resource we have to use,” Liu said.
The plethora of legal complications that international graduate students face has led the committee to organize a survey for all graduate international students, asking about the struggles they face as students at Yale and a U.S.-based institution.
“This survey will help us understand, for example, how efficient the communication is and what the problems are [for international students],” Angeli said. “It’s a survey that essentially wants to promote a more bottom-up approach in problem solving and the identification of problems.”
Liu has not seen his family in five years, and he is not alone. Most international students, Liu said, in particular those from East Asia like him, are not able to travel back home regularly because travel costs are very high compared to domestic travel. He suggested that higher funding for OISS would allow graduate students like himself to see their families at least “once per program.”
Victoria Rai, the facilities and healthcare chair for the Graduate Student Assembly, said that although she is not an international graduate student herself, she has heard from other students that they still did not understand their particular visa status after getting in touch with OISS for assistance.
She also said that she is working on ensuring that international graduate students find a strong community at the University by working with Yale’s health providers to decrease the barriers to access to mental health resources. Rai said that such efforts have most recently led to two mental health providers offering support for those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, citing the effort as a “good first step.”
“International students sometimes don’t feel like they have a community, or they find community within themselves,” Rai said. “They don’t feel like there’s institutional support … our healthcare system isn’t necessarily built to access international students in a way that’s familiar to them.”
OISS is located at 421 Temple St.