Colleges and universities across America have become a major draw for students worldwide over the years. Currently, at least 1 million international students are attending institutes of higher education across the United States. But when an international student gets accused of academic misconduct or violations of other student conduct policies, the dream of a prestigious degree can quickly turn into a nightmare. Often unaware of our cultural norms, legal structures, and the American approach to student discipline, an international student can quickly become overwhelmed. Without help, the student may face unfair discipline, negative academic marks, or even expulsion.
International students who are suspended for any amount of time during the semester for violation of academic codes or conduct codes risk violating the requirement that they maintain a full course load during their time in the United States. Unfortunately, violating this requirement could lead to deportation.
If you're an international student facing disciplinary action from a school you're attending here in the states, you need an experienced attorney advisor by your side who knows the system and can guide you through the process. Doing so could result in a more favorable outcome and possibly even rescue your career prospects.
International Student Visa Basics
There are a few different visa pathways for foreign students to attend a college or university within the United States. Most of the international students will apply for F-1 Visas, although in certain scenarios, the J-1 Visa is appropriate. Still yet, other foreign students who are already in the United States for purposes other than school may find they fall under Dependent Status as children or a spouse of someone who's in the U.S. for work.
Primarily, F-1 Visas and J-1 Visas will be the status of most international students, and there are a few key differences when looking at their eligibility requirements which could be affected by disciplinary actions.
F-1 Visa Issues
There are numerous regulations international students must adhere to in order to keep their F-1 Visa status in good standing. Of these, some that may be impacted by disciplinary action could include:
- The requirement to maintain full-time credits during each semester. Registering for a full-time course load isn't enough, and students must also complete their course load.
- The requirement that students attend the school listed on their I-20 form. Transferring requires adherence to strict procedures and rules.
- The requirement to adhere to proper employment guidelines, including those applicable to Curricular Practical Training and Optional Practical Training.
J-1 Visa Issues
International students receiving a collegiate education in the U.S. on a J-1 Visa are less common than F-1 Visa students, but there are still around 300,000 J-1 Visa applicants in the United States every year. Unlike F-1 Visa students, J-1 Visa holders must receive sponsorship, and thus their progress is additionally monitored during their stay. Some issues that could affect your J-1 Visa are similar to those that affect F-1 Visa holders, but there are a few differences. Pertinent requirements potentially affected by disciplinary issues include:
- Maintaining full-time student status pursuant to the student's particular program requirements.
- Adhering to the requirements of the DS-2019 form, including policies for transfer from one program to another.
- Discussing and gaining approval for any program, degree, or major changes.
- Funding requirements for J-1 Visa holders
How Disciplinary Issues Can Affect International Students
Issues of student misconduct or academic failures impact all students negatively, but it's hard to imagine a scenario where the implications of student issues can so dramatically impact someone's future as those international students facing disciplinary action. Not only may international students lose out on the time and money they've put into their academic careers, but they also lose out on the time and money they put into obtaining their Student Visa.
As far as their futures are concerned, international students whose status with a college or university are in jeopardy due to disciplinary concerns may not only find that they can't complete their program of study, but that they can't stay in the United States.
Unfortunately, some international students who are accused of violating their Visa requirements could be deported. This could mean more legal headaches and expenses in addition to the issues with your school. Just like you need an immigration attorney to help you with your visa, you also need an attorney-advisor who can help you with the disciplinary decisions your school has handed down.
In short, the stakes are often higher for international students than they are students who are U.S. citizens, and those international students who find they're at risk of losing their education should seek out an experienced advocate who understands how student defense works within the colleges and universities.
Credit Hour Pressures May Lead to Academic Issues
Both F-1 and J-1 Student Visa holders must maintain full-time credit hours while they are attending university in the United States. Regarding F-1 Visa holders at UC Berkeley, the school’s International Office provides that:
- “You must be enrolled in full-time units each semester. For immigration purposes, in most cases, students must complete a minimum of 12 units per semester. Check your college (undergrads) or department (graduates) for minimum unit requirements.”
In most cases, 12 units is accepted, but programs differ, and students should be aware of the program requirements that mandate the minimum course credits allowed for each international student's program.
Unfortunately, the impacts of required course loads could create issues with an international student's academic performance. It doesn't take any stretch of the imagination to understand that students living in a country foreign to them may face significant roadblocks that U.S.-born students don't have to contend with. As a result, some international students might fall behind due to communication and language issues or even discrimination.
Unlike their U.S. citizen counterparts, international students can't reduce their workload to focus on the classes that are causing them difficulty. Nor can they easily take a sabbatical for a semester or two for their mental health. If they do, they risk failing to meet their Visa requirements. International students are held to a higher standard. It's a lot to ask of anyone, let alone a student in a foreign country.
What Kinds of Academic Issues May Affect International Students?
International students could face issues of academic progress or academic misconduct. In either case, the consequences could be severe and foreign students attending college through a Visa program could find they lose scholarships, qualifications to continue with their programs, or dismissal from the university altogether. These issues may include:
As discussed in this US News article, many international students don't realize what they're up against when they begin their studies in the United States. Getting into the school is only half the battle—they also need to understand how serious academic suspension is and how it could jeopardize their entire educational careers and future prospects.
International Student Academic Progression Issues
Although many international students excel academically, there are times when students struggle. Even in normal times, the rigors of coursework and student life can be difficult to overcome, but the Covid-19 pandemic added an entirely new set of circumstances for students to contend with.
Students who fail to maintain a certain GPA, a 2.0 for undergraduate students and a 3.0 for graduate students at the University of Houston, may face academic suspension. Students placed on academic suspension aren't allowed to register for classes for the next semester and must instead sit it out. If they are placed on academic suspension a second time, they have to sit out registration for an entire 12-month period. If it happens a third time, they'll be dismissed and unable to reapply for admission.
Students under both the F-1 Visa and the J-1 Visa cannot sit out a semester due to the requirement that they maintain a full course load. Failure to maintain the mandatory credit hours puts the international student at risk of being in the country illegally. To avoid jeopardizing their visa after being placed on academic suspension, students will have to apply and enroll at another school until the suspension period at their primary school has passed.
This is harder for J-1 students than it is F-1 students because J-1 students are only allowed to attend the schools listed on their DS-2019.
International Student Academic Misconduct Issues
Academic misconduct issues are different from academic progression issues in that academic misconduct involves more than just falling behind in class or coming up short on exam scores. Academic misconduct happens when actions are taken by students to try to improve their circumstances through fraudulent or wrongful means. For example, NYU’s Academic Dishonesty Policy prohibits:
Plagiarism: Defined by NYU as “Presenting others' work without adequate acknowledgment of its source, as though it were one's own. Plagiarism is a form of fraud. We all stand on the shoulders of others, and we must give credit to the creators of the works that we incorporate into products that we call our own.”
Examples of plagiarism provided in NYU's Academic Dishonesty Policy include:
- “a sequence of words incorporated without quotation marks”
- “an unacknowledged passage paraphrased from another's work”
- “the use of ideas, sound recordings, computer data or images created by others as though it were one's own”
Cheating: Defined by NYU as “Deceiving a faculty member or other individual who assess student performance into believing that one's mastery of a subject or discipline is greater than it is by a range of dishonest methods.”
The provided examples of cheating include:
- “bringing or accessing unauthorized materials during an examination (e.g., notes, books, or other information accessed via cell phones, computers, other technology or any other means)”
- “providing assistance to acts of academic misconduct/dishonesty (e.g., sharing copies of exams via cell phones, computers, other technology or any other means, allowing others to copy answers on an exam)”
- “submitting the same or substantially similar work in multiple courses, either in the same semester or in a different semester, without the express approval of all instructors”
- “submitting work (papers, homework assignments, computer programs, experimental results, artwork, etc.) that was created by another, substantially or in whole, as one's own”
- “submitting answers on an exam that were obtained from the work of another person or providing answers or assistance to others during an exam when not explicitly permitted by the instructor”
- “submitting evaluations of group members' work for an assigned group project which misrepresent the work that was performed by another group member”
- “altering or forging academic documents, including but not limited to admissions materials, academic records, grade reports, add/drop forms, course registration forms, etc.”
Of course, each college and university will have its own unique guidelines pertaining to academic misconduct, but even though they differ, most of them will focus on cheating and plagiarism in the same way that NYU does.
Even for U.S.-born students, accidents happen. When you add language barriers and, in recent years, the chaos induced by Covid-19 on campus, international students may find themselves in academic hot water even though they had no intention of committing a dishonest act.
Of all the issues international students get accused of, cheating appears to be the most prevalent—and among the various kinds of cheating, plagiarism is one of the most frequent accusations. A huge factor in this trend may be the fact that the concept of plagiarism is different by American standards than in other nations—and in some countries, the idea may be altogether absent. Therefore, some international students may be more prone to get on the wrong side of the rules without realizing it.
Common Disciplinary Issues and Other Concerns International Students Face
International students may find themselves facing conflict with a school over various issues, some more prevalent than others. Some of the most common may include the following:
- Professionalism Concerns
- Student Misconduct
- Title IX Allegations
- Sexual Misconduct
- Tuition Issues
Every school will have slightly different structures in place for handling these concerns, but if the student doesn't have a clear understanding of his/her rights and how the process works, the chances of a negative outcome are more likely. Additionally, some consequences, such as suspension, can put student visas in jeopardy. With stakes this high, it is crucial to have an experienced attorney in your corner.
International Student Professionalism Issues
International students, especially those in graduate programs, must adhere to the same set of professionalism standards that their U.S.-born counterparts do. While this requirement makes sense in some ways, it's important that faculty and administration who are implementing these professionalism requirements remember that professionalism abroad may look different than it does here in the United States. Some international students may adapt to our professionalism standards at a different pace than other students. This doesn't necessarily mean the international student is disregarding the policy outright, but rather they may just have more difficulty adapting.
Failing these standard requirements is heartbreaking for international students who've worked so hard to get into a program. For example, international students applying to medical school face even more strict requirements—such as completing all of their undergrad coursework at a university in the United States. Once they get into medical school, they aren't done jumping hurdles.
- “Behave honestly and ethically in their academic and professional pursuits;”
- “Treat professional colleagues, patients, and their family members considerately and respectfully avoiding behaviors considered aggressive, hostile, abusive, or exclusive of others;”
- “Maintain patient information in confidence; in compliance with HIPAA and all applicable legal standards, to include all verbal, written, and electronic means of communication;”
- “Avoid behavior that would be considered aggressive, hostile, abusive, or exclusive of others, or that would generally be considered mistreatment of other students, residents, faculty, or staff;”
- “Provide honest and accurate information on applications for residency, medical licensure, and membership in professional associations;”
- “Represent accurately professional status avoiding reference to self as M.D. or signing prescriptions;”
Even medical students born in the United States can have difficulty adhering to all professionalism requirements in their medical school programs, but when international students either misunderstand the guidelines, or they are going through difficult times and make an error in judgment, they face more dire consequences.
International Student Misconduct Issues
Student misconduct applies to the more aggressive behaviors that are often the result of severe stress or even addiction issues. Every school has its own Code of Conduct that students are expected to know and to abide by.
Though each school is different, the Codes of Conduct will generally cover the same types of actions. Violations of school codes may result in disciplinary hearings and sanctions, having a negative impact on the international student's academic career. Common student misconduct charges may include:
- Alcohol or drugs on campus
- Social media, Internet violations, or cyber crimes
- Cyberbullying and cyberstalking
- Breaking and entering
- Disruptive behavior
- Physical violence
Accusations of student misconduct can sometimes start out as a simple prank or a misunderstanding. Other times, the misconduct is evidence of more serious behavioral issues or addiction.
Unfortunately, international students will face more instances of discrimination than other students, and when this happens, allegations of misconduct could be false. Students who suspect they are victims of discrimination should speak to an attorney who can help them fight against the disciplinary actions and those who are discriminating against them.
International Student Title IX Issues
Here in the U.S., federal law dictates how schools handle allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct (known as Title IX complaints). Allegations of sexual misconduct are addressed by a separate school office according to federal rules. International students accused of sexual misconduct could face a variety of disciplinary actions by the school, and depending on the circumstances, possibly criminal charges as well.
Title IX is a part of the Education Amendments of 1972, which says:
- “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
All schools that receive federal funding must adhere to Title IX, which prohibits the following:
- Sexual harassment
- Sexual violence
- Discrimination on the basis of sex
Title IX violations must be reported to the school, and when mandatory reporters suspect sexual misconduct has occurred, they risk their employment by not reporting it. Violating this law brings stiff penalties, and for good reason.
Even though sexual misconduct is wrongful, there are instances where international students may be underserving of the penalties associated with sexual misconduct disciplinary actions. International students often find that, in addition to learning their curriculum, they're also learning the customs of their new locations. Miscommunication isn't uncommon, and actions that may seem threatening weren't intended as such by the international student. When this happens, effective communication and explanation can be a better course of action than dismissal.
There are also times when an international student may be the victim of discriminatory bias. Unfortunately, Title IX sexual misconduct carries heavy penalties, and often students who are investigated for these violations are ultimately dismissed from their programs.
Dismissal from school due to a misconduct violation can be grounds for the revocation of a student's visa. It's critically important that international students who've been accused of sexual misconduct hire an attorney-advisor as soon as they suspect they'll be investigated.
International Student Sexual Misconduct Issues at Private Schools
Although Title IX applies to the vast majority of schools in the United States, it's important to mention that Title IX isn't applicable in every college or university setting. Some private schools receive no federal funding whatsoever, and so they don't have to abide by this federal law. Still, that doesn't mean action won't be taken when someone accuses an international student of sexual misconduct. If you're an international student who finds they're being accused of sexual misconduct even at a school that doesn't have to adhere to Title IX, it's likely that your school still has sexual misconduct rules.
No matter what type of college or university you're attending, it's important that you review and understand the school's Student Code of Conduct. If you need help determining how your school's policies apply to you, contact an experienced international student discipline defense attorney to help you.
Are International Students More Likely to Deal with Misconduct Allegations?
It may seem unfair—and probably is—but research shows that in American schools, international students have a higher probability of being accused of wrongdoing, especially on an academic level. Why are international students more susceptible to these allegations? There may be several factors at work, including:
- Cultural construct differences. For example, the concept of what constitutes “cheating” in Western culture doesn't always match up with that of other cultures. Without being properly oriented, international students sometimes find themselves in violation of school academic policies without realizing it.
- Latent xenophobia. Americans can sometimes be naturally suspicious of foreigners. Even on college/university campuses where diversity is promoted, people may view international students with greater scrutiny, even if unintentionally.
- Language barriers. Even for students who are fluent in English, sometimes words and phrases carry underlying meanings, even in different parts of the country, that an international student won't immediately grasp. Many international student issues occur as a simple matter of miscommunication or being misunderstood.
These biases are wrong, and if you suspect that you're the victim of discriminatory practices, then you should hire an attorney. If you don't, then you risk not being able to satisfy the conditions of your visa and losing your legal status in the United States.
While international students aren't eligible for federal financial aid from the U.S. government, they may be eligible for assistance through other programs both in the States and at home. If something goes amiss with tuition funding through these programs, the student's enrollment standing could be placed at risk through no fault of their own. For international students here on student visas, this could easily become a complicated mess, one that may require help to weed through.
Virtually all colleges and universities have a process in place for students to appeal disciplinary measures or bad grades. However, international students often fail to use this process successfully because they don't understand how the process works. As a result, some bear the brunt of extreme sanctions they truly didn't deserve.
If you're facing the threat of probation or dismissal for academic progress or misconduct issues, you should contact an experienced attorney-advisor who can walk you through the process and explain all options available to you. An experienced student discipline attorney-advisor will understand the process to appeal your grades or the disciplinary actions that you're facing.
Your attorney-advisor may be able to help you demonstrate to the school that you've struggled for reasons outside of your control. For example, maybe the school failed to implement adequate ADA standards, such as testing accommodations or handicap parking. These are just a few examples of the ways the school could fail in its responsibilities to international students. These failures often lead to the initial appearance of the student's inability to perform academically.
Your attorney-advisor could also recommend effective remediation that will help you succeed at your school instead of outright dismissal.
If an international student is dismissed or expelled from school due to academic misconduct allegations or other issues, it can cause a huge array of problems and complications. Not only does dismissal result in a loss of academic progress and tuition money, it can also make it infinitely more difficult to get accepted at another school—let alone jeopardizing one's career prospects. To make matters worse, since the student's F-1, J-1, or M-1 student visa requires enrollment in an educational program, a dismissal can revoke the student's legal right to be in the country, putting them at risk for deportation.
Not only do student visas require full-time enrollment, but students who are disciplined for violating Student Codes of Conduct or who are arrested, will have their visas revoked. A successful appeal of the disciplinary action could prevent revocation. If a student visa has been revoked, the appeal could provide crucial evidence that the student's visa should be reinstated.
Deportation of International Students
Failure for any student visa holder to comply with the requirements of their visa will mean that their visas aren't valid. When a student is in the United States without a valid visa, that means they are in the country illegally. Students in the country illegally are subject to deportation.
There are many requirements that international students must adhere to in order to keep their student visa status. It's understandably complicated and the last thing an international student needs to worry about when they're trying to maintain their legal status is the impact of academic or misconduct issues.
To minimize your chances of deportation after accusations of academic or student misconduct issues, you need to contact an experienced student discipline defense attorney who is familiar with the defense of international students in front of college and university disciplinary boards.
Hiring an Attorney-Advisor to Help with International Student Issues
Considering all that is at stake for international students, if you find yourself facing disciplinary action or other issues that put your education at risk, the best thing you can do is hire an attorney advisor to help. An experienced attorney advisor can help you understand your rights as a student and what to expect with the disciplinary process. He can also help gather evidence and witnesses to support your case, help you defend yourself against any charges, and guide you through the critical appeals process. In many cases, the involvement of an attorney-advisor may be key to keeping your educational dreams from ending in disaster.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience helping international students deal with unfair allegations, disciplinary processes, and other school-related issues. Help is just a phone call away. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.