December 2, 2022

When Nayanika Guha arrived in New York City to start her journalism master’s at New York University in August, she thought that she would have to stop freelancing due to being on an F-1 student visa. Having been a freelance reporter based in India, she had come to terms with the facts that her income likely would drop and that there would be limits on getting work done for class published. 

That is until she was told, during an international student orientation in her journalism program, that she would be able to freelance under Curricular Practical Training, which is one of two types of practical training that students under F-1 visas can pursue. “Once the professor confirms that it is for class, they [Office of Global Services] approve it on their end. Then we can get it published and get paid for it,” Guha said about one course she is taking right now that requires freelancing. But, it is a lot of paperwork. Guha and other international students freelancing under CPT would have to go through this process with each new publication they land a story at from their classwork. If they submit a second article to the same publication in a class they are taking, they do not have to go through the approval process again. 

At journalism schools, professors often encourage students to pitch work that they have published in class, but international students are often left with questions about what they can get paid for their work. Some students do not freelance at all while on an F-1 visa. Others do, but they get payments transferred to bank accounts back home. As in Guha’s case, some journalism schools are grappling with how their advice on landing freelance opportunities can apply to international students on visas. 

This is not to say that international students are barred from working at all, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, students in their first academic year on F-1 visas can work up to 20 hours on campus. But for students in one-year journalism school programs, such as most of the programs at the Columbia School of Journalism, this is a very short time, especially for new journalists, to compile clips that can be used to apply for internships and full-time jobs. 

While many are not paid, a growing number of journalism schools have created hyperlocal publications, which are often community-based organizations that work to fill a shrinking local news gap. 

Aina Izham is graduating in December with a master’s degree in engagement journalism at Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. She has found opportunities to gain clips with the school’s NYCity News Service and Mott Haven Herald. For example, she created a TikTok for NYCity News Service on a local organizer who “founded Save Section 9 to protect public housing in her neighborhood.”

“I didn’t have to get permission from an advisor or anything for this to be published,” said Izham, who is from Malaysia and also did her undergraduate degree in the United States. Izham, who is on an F-1 visa, also was an online engagement intern at Solutions Journalism Network this past summer. Summer internships are a graduation requirement at her journalism school and many others.  

But contributing stories to a local news outlet, such as a journalism school’s hyperlocal one or a campus newspaper, does not always fit into the work that students want to do. This can be challenging for those who are not at a journalism school but still want to work in the field while pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree. 

Anastasiia Malenko, an undergraduate student from Ukraine in her final year majoring in political science and economics at Stanford University, is one of these students. She previously worked as a news and magazine editor at The Stanford Daily, Stanford University’s newspaper. 

Malenko has gotten advice that getting experience writing for magazines and other publications would give her more experience. But, she understands that publications might be wary of not paying people like her. 

“I don’t know how open newspapers would be to working with a person who can’t get paid. … If I had to guess, it also puts them in some uncomfortable situation,” Malenko said. 

Whether or not an editor would consider not paying a writer due to their visa status varies per publication. Not paying a writer is an ethical issue, but international students also not getting the same opportunities could also be considered an additional ethical problem. 

While she has been told that applying for CPT could be an option, getting approval from different bodies, including the international center and her department, would take a lot of time, calling the process “kind of inaccessible” for one-off projects like a single article for a publication.  

For Malenko and others, following student visa rules is especially important, not just as a point of ethics, but also to make sure they are in good shape to apply for work visas when they land journalism jobs in the United States after graduation. In the meantime, transparency and guidance on what students are allowed to do, while helping them gain work experience within the rules are crucial. Something Guha believes her program is providing well. 

“I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with how much they’re doing for us,” Guha, who is in her first of four semesters at NYU, said. “They’re also very well-equipped to help us.”

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Julia Métraux (she/her) is an independent reporter and current graduate student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at…
Julia Métraux

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