Saturday, October 24

UCLA could do more to help international students navigate tax forms, internships

This post was updated Oct. 19 at 2:42 p.m.

International students may travel the globe for an education.

But it won’t be customs or connecting flights that stop them up – more likely, it will be a convoluted mess of tax forms.

International students at UCLA accounted for 12% of the total undergraduate population, according to data provided by the UCLA 2018-2019 undergraduate profile. Each of these students are required to pay about $29,754 nonresident supplemental tuition each year.

But extra tuition will be the least of international students’ worries once they have to navigate the maze of the Dashew Center for International Students & Scholars – UCLA’s supposed pipeline for international students.

International students often face a major information gap on filing tax forms and handling internship opportunities – gaps that can lead to dire consequences. Although UCLA has the Dashew Center and UCLA Career Center to provide various workshops, programs and platforms on topics including tax and internship paperwork, these procedures are not built into Dashew’s system to ensure international students understand them.

By providing international students with a simple presentation during orientation or consistent email reminders, the Dashew Center could help Bruins avoid confusion at best, and issues with the U.S. government at worst.

The tax form on the IRS website specifically requires that “alien individuals” must file Form 8843, which validates them as exempt from a limit on days of presence in the United States.

However, most international students do not know that this is required.

Abinav Ramachandran Kamalakannan, an international first-year mechanical engineering student who completed all orientation before matriculation, said he didn’t know about Form 8843, and he thinks UCLA will notify him if there are any important forms he needs to fill.

“I am pretty sure that if I do need (Form 8843), someone (from UCLA) will let me know,” Ramachandran Kamalakannan said.

And it’s exactly this lack of presence and instruction for international students that can cause difficulties down the line.

The Dashew Center requires students to attend a visa check via email and puts a hold on students’ accounts if they do not do so. But the center never enforces annual tax-related sessions, even though the U.S. government requires filing them.

Sean Ewing, a Ph.D. student with a concentration in American politics, said that the two agencies that might affect policies for international students might not communicate and exchange information with each other.

“Bureaucracies of the size of the United States are notorious for not communicating with each other, ” Ewing said.

As a result, the Dashew Center would rather coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security over international students than communicate with the Department of the Treasury.

According to an email statement from the Dashew Center, it began to partner with tax organizations at the end of the last school year. But in order to truly serve international students, the Dashew Center needs to make these resources more available and accessible, especially for new students. This could be achieved through online mandatory orientation sessions, consistent email communication or more workshops before the tax filing deadline.

In addition to tax form services, students also face obstacles to obtaining internship experience. On Handshake and other internship-listing websites, there are often unpaid part-time internship opportunities for students to experience or practice what they learn in the classroom. However, a great number of international students do not realize that unpaid internships still requires appropriate paperwork, which involves enrolling in Curricular Practical Training and submitting forms to the Dashew Center.

Christine Wilson, the interim director of the UCLA Career Center, said that many students run into trouble because they are unaware of these requirements.

“I generally find that international students do know a fair amount before they come to school,” Wilson said. “However, they might not understand that just because they did not get any money from the internship, the internship was still counted as an internship that requires CPT.”

Wilson also said that even for students who do volunteer work, they might face difficulties with paperwork if they agree to receive certain types of payment without having fulfilled the CPT program requirements.

And the consequences are more than a slap on the wrist.

When international students accept volunteer organization’s payment without finishing CPT and the corresponding paperwork, their visas may be terminated and they will lose the right to stay in the United States for education, according to the Dashew Center’s website.

Dashew needs to be foolproof in its support for students going through this process. Bruins should never fear losing their education over a simple oversight – especially one no one warned them about.

Despite these severe consequences, the Dashew Center claims that, once students finished the enforced check-in and visa workshops, they alone are responsible for any other guidelines or rules to maintain their compliance with F-1 Visa regulations during their school years.

For most international students who enter a completely new environment in college without any friends and parents, simply telling them that they are responsible for themselves is a rather cold sentiment.

Granted, the Dashew Center itself admits its staff are not trained to help students file taxes specifically, so they cannot help students with questions about taxes. But the center doesn’t need to hold these students’ hands the entire way through the process – they only need to provide a clear-cut timeline of dates, deadlines and processes to international students. By doing so at orientation, the center could help students navigate the many forms and files essential to being an international student at UCLA.

UCLA’s international community is composed of students from all over the globe, but they’re still just that – students. If UCLA thinks Bruins know how to navigate tax forms, they’re likely mistaken.

But if UCLA assumes the same about international students, their education might be in danger.

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