Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global Inclusion and Social Development

First Advisor

Dolly Daftary

Second Advisor

Gerardo Blanco

Third Advisor

Donald Ross


According to United States law, international F-1 students are nonimmigrant aliens residing in the United States temporarily. Yet, they are more than just short-term visitors, as many of them live in the country for years while pursuing their postsecondary studies. Since international students are foreign citizens, their rights and freedoms are bound by the constraints of the country’s immigration policies. This study is concerned with work-related restrictions imposed on F-1 students by the U.S. government, positioning international students’ limited opportunities for employment as being in violation with their basic human right to economic and social development.

This multi-method project drew upon human rights and capabilities frameworks and combined policy analysis with primary data to investigate the lived experiences of international students with respect to employment and opportunity. Based on a case study anchored in the New England region, it incorporated in-depth interviews and surveys with current and former international F-1 students (N=38) who were engaged in the workforce while pursuing their studies and residing in the United States. In addition, multi-site data collection included interviews with 22 stakeholders, such as international student advisors and members of international student advocacy organizations, whose contributions presented student experiences from a completely different angle.

Founded in the transdisciplinary research process, this investigation took into account theoretical frameworks from the fields of higher education, labor studies, immigration policy and human rights. A case study method was chosen due to its effectiveness in the application towards policy evaluation where no reliable measures of its impact and adequacy currently exist. Data collection focused on international students’ socio-economic well-being as well as their coping strategies in the face of employment-related immigration policies. The findings reveal that highly restrictive immigration policies had a negative impact on the livelihoods of international F-1 students, fostered exclusion and exploitation, forced students to engage in unauthorized labor, and created continuous financial struggles. Recommendations call for policy change and for the utilization of a more holistic approach in researching international students’ issues.