The Mail Bag: Foreign Students Show Ignorance about Immigration

By David North on December 2, 2020

We at CIS often get letters from aliens seeking advice on what they should do next. Sometimes they show both a narrow focus and an ignorance of the admittedly complex immigration system, and sometimes they exhibit a total lack of planning.

For example, we just received this from what appears to be a person from India:

I hope someone can help with this particular situation:

My wife and I are currently on F-1 status.

Myself currently on OPT (non stem) expiring in Feb.

Wife: F-1 student graduating in May.

Currently my wife is pregnant her [medical] student insurance obtained through the university covers maternity and post maternity care but the coverage ends on May 31. The baby is due in July.

So far every insurance plan I saw online has a waiting period for 12 months to cover the pregnancy.

I have two questions:

Q1. Can I change my status to F1 dependent [i.e., F-2] or B1B2 while I am in the USA? How much time would the processing take?

Q2. Is there any insurance to cover the pregnancy for F-1 students?

So we have a college grad and an about-to-be college grad who have managed to achieve a pregnancy that will produce a baby at a time when both parents — unless something changes quickly — will be out of status when the baby arrives. The letter shows bad planning, to say the least, and given their education, a high degree of ignorance of what new parents should know. Further, the narrowness of their questions suggests that they are not thinking about the full array of options that are open to them. (Without saying so, they apparently want to stay in the U.S., and have some insurance system pay for the birth, and have not thought much further.)

Were I to write to them (as an individual, not representing CIS), I would do so along these lines:

Dear young couple:

I have your query about what to do next and wonder why two well-educated young people would be in such a quandary. You have a plethora of options, given your description of your situation.

The most obvious one is to return to India, where you will both be legal residents, where you will have at least some support systems from extended families, and where the costs of birth care — by U.S. standards — are very low. The husband has been working in the U.S. for at least a year (by February) in a government subsidized Optional Practical Training job and should have saved some money.

Another obvious choice, though some would not see this as an option, is to have an abortion, and either avoid having children altogether, or plan to have it, or them, when both of you will surely be in legal status someplace. It is not a good idea to have a baby while the parents (one or both) are in illegal status. It is certainly not fair to the baby.

A third obvious choice is to learn something about how this nation deals with the arrival of a baby, a new citizen, incidentally, when one or more parents is out of legal status.

The birth is covered by our Medicaid system, and the baby is eligible for at least some postpartum care. Further — even though the parents may have contributed nothing to the support of the government — both the pregnant and the nursing woman and the baby, are eligible for the WIC (Women, Infants, Children) program and its special foods for mother and child. I gather, second hand, that WIC is a very welcoming program, unlike some other benefit programs. No one asks about the legal status of anyone.

So not only does this nation grant immediate citizenship to the baby (something rarely encountered outside the Western Hemisphere), it provides some medical care, and some food supplements, to the baby and perhaps a lesser set for the mother, even though one or the other parent, or both of them, are illegally present.

You ask about changing status for, apparently, the husband, who will likely be an illegal alien by February, and inquired about tourist status or that of a dependent of an F-1 student (the wife). No one can work legally in either of those statuses, so perhaps you are well enough off to consider them. An F-2 status for the husband would only cover him through the wife's graduation, at which time he would revert to illegal status. Converting one or both of you to tourist status would also be a short-lived solution, but if you simply want to have the baby here and then leave for India, these options might be considered.

A longer term solution to legal status, but not a permanent one, would be for one of you, or both of you, to seek another degree. Perhaps if the wife were to seek a master's degree at the same university where she is currently studying that would give her legal status as an F-1 for another couple of years; it might also extend the student medical insurance. With so much of university teaching being virtual these days, it would be easy for either the new mother, or the new father, to study and hold down a paying job at the same time, though the job market is not as favorable as it was a year ago. Perhaps one of you could be the F-1 and the other the F-2.

In addition, you should be aware that the immigration law is rarely enforced, except at the borders and airports. You should also know that a legitimate application for an immigration benefit usually prevents a deportation while it is being processed.

In other words, you have lots and lots of options, and I am surprised you are not aware of most, if not all of them. And there are others out there that we have not mentioned, such as working for an Indian consulate or embassy, or for an international organization, or in an H-1B job with a university. The list goes on and on and on.

This advice, by the way, is both free and not from a lawyer; but it is from someone who knows something about the immigration system. Good luck.