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Helping CalArts Students Navigate Immigration

International students at CalArts who want to remain in the U.S. after graduation often find it daunting to wade through the application process to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). What forms do you fill out; when are they due; how much do the applications cost; do you need a lawyer; what background materials do you need? Those were some of the questions addressed on November 14, when an experienced immigration lawyer visited campus to answer students’ questions.

Jane Oak, an attorney based in the Koreatown district of Los Angeles, with 15 years of experience in immigration law, offered valuable advice to students who want to stay in the U.S. after they graduate. She covered a wide range of topics, from how to secure the one-year, post-graduation extension of student visas, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT) status, to how to get Permanent Resident Status, commonly called the Greencard.

Gathering Documents Early

Although some applications can only be submitted during specific time periods, Oak said that students can ease the process by gathering support materials in advance, such as letters of reference or documents from companies confirming a student’s future employment. “Always plan well,” said Oak, who offers services in multiple languages, including Korean and Spanish. For some forms, she said, it pays to start gathering information a year before the USCIS will first accept the application. So students hoping to stay in the U.S. after they graduate next spring need to collect materials now, if they haven’t started already.

There are currently 240 international students enrolled at CalArts, up from 166 just two years ago, an increase of 45%. Most of the international students stay in the U.S. for the first year after they graduate, taking advantage of the OPT extension. CalArts’ associate director of International Students and Programs, Penelope Weston, is the Institute’s resident expert on student visas and post-graduation immigration matters, working one-on-one with students throughout the year.

“You’re working so hard to build a career and perhaps stay in the U.S.,” Weston told the students. “It takes a long time to prepare for life after CalArts. You have to start now.”

CalArts Alumni Share Their Immigration Success Stories

Also attending the session were three CalArts international alumni—including one who appeared via Skype—who have successfully worked through the immigration process and who told their personal stories. Visual artist Erlea Maneros Zabala said that she was first able to get a visa because she had a job with a magazine, but when that ended, she had to apply for a new visa, which required proof that she had extraordinary ability. “You need a portfolio documenting everything you’ve ever done, including any mention of your work that appeared in a publication,” she said. “Whether you’ve sold a lot of work but not many people have written about it, or if you’ve received lots of reviews but haven’t sold a lot of work, make sure to play up your strengths.”


  • For more information on immigration issues for students, please contact Penelope Weston, associate director of International Students and Programs, at pweston@calarts.edu.
Last edited by rsdavid on May 07, 2014
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