International students sacrifice for a higher education at BYU

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    By David Wadley

    Attending school at BYU can be a great blessing, but for many international students, it is a blessing that comes at great sacrifice.

    “I sold everything that I had,” said Edmilson Torres, a student from Brazil. “If I have to go back to Brazil right now, I do not have anywhere to live.”

    One of 2500 international students currently attending BYU, Torres said he has come to realize that his sacrifices don”t end at the school gates.

    To keep their legal status, non-domestic students who wish to work must follow strict regulations set up by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Among these regulations, they can work no more than 20 hours per week while maintaining at least 12 credit hours per semester.

    Both the government and the university are very strict about adhering to these requirements; a lesson Torres learned the hard way when he worked too many hours at his job at the MTC one week.

    “One day, I did not punch my card in the lunch time,” Torres said. “I received a letter in the mail saying you worked over hours and we have to make some actions. I was scared about that.”

    He said that he could not sleep all weekend, worrying about what would happen to him. Luckily, he and his supervisor were able to clear up the confusion; allowing him to stay at school.

    International Services Director Enoc Flores acts as the liason between the government and BYU”s international student population. He experiences first-hand the struggles these students go through and does a lot to mentor them.

    “We have talked to immigration to see if we have a 10 minute leeway,” Flores said. “You know, can they go over four minutes, and they said no. The law says 20.”

    Flores said if they do work more than 20 hours there is only one option, to leave the country and come back to start over at square one.

    “Fortunately we don”t have a lot of those,” he said. “We have maybe one every two or three semesters.”

    Flores said this number reflects a drastic improvement, down from the two or three students BYU used to send home every semester in the past. He gives credit to the efforts made by the Student Employment Office in keeping the international employees advised of their situations every pay period.

    Mary O”Neil works at the Student Employment Office and is the employment specialist responsible for overseeing the university”s international employees.

    “There are problems. Some weeks there are more than others,” she said. “That”s one of the things we are working on now to be proactive to assist the students in keeping track of their won hours.”

    She said despite the challenges that come with international students, she loves working with them and helping them get the most out of their experience at BYU.

    Apart from the burdensome federal requirements he faces, Torres said he also faces challenges because of his international status when competing with domestic students.

    “I don”t want to compete with Americans, I just want to have a chance to improve my talents,” he said. “I came here just to learn, I don”t want to compete with Americans.”

    So, like those before him and those who will surely come after him, Edmilson Torres continues to live a more restricted life than most students, but continues to try to make the most of his educational opportunities.

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