Life lessons: Vivek Saini's death is a cautionary tale for foreign students in America

The recent news of the horrific death of Vivek Saini, a 25-year-old Indian student sent shockwaves across the tightly connected Indian student community in America. The incident captured on the store’s CCTV camera shows him being bludgeoned by a homeless man at a convenience store in US's Georgia where Vivek was working part-time. 

This incident raises question of safety of Indian students who travel half-way across the globe in pursuit of their American dream. It also raises question about the legality of their actions in taking up work outside their universities

The American Dream

The United States has long been a magnet for international students seeking world-class education and diverse cultural experiences. While many foreign students adhere to the rules and regulations governing their stay, a concerning trend has emerged – some students are engaging in illegal employment. This practice, though providing financial relief for students facing economic pressures, raises complex issues regarding legal compliance, exploitation, and potential consequences.

A typical middle-class family in India is likely to mortgage or sell property and take student loans of lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of rupees to pay for college applications, visa processing and airfare. After landing in America, foreign students studying in the United States often face substantial financial burdens, including tuition fees, living expenses, and other miscellaneous costs. To alleviate these financial pressures, some students turn to illegal employment, seeking under-the-table jobs that pay cash or accept unofficial arrangements. The allure of quick money and the desire to maintain a certain standard of living prompt students to explore these illicit opportunities.

The Law is clear

The United States has clear regulations regarding employment for international students holding F-1 visas. While on-campus employment is generally permitted, off-campus work is subject to specific guidelines and requires authorization from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Violating these rules can result in serious consequences, including the termination of student visas and possible deportation. After the first academic year, F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT) 
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion) 
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT)

The decision to work illegally is not without its share of challenges for international students as Vivek Saini’s horrific death highlights. Many students face exploitation in the form of low wages, subpar working conditions, and the absence of workplace protections. Moreover, these students risk jeopardizing their legal status, facing deportation, and encountering long-term consequences that may impact their ability to pursue future opportunities in the United States.

Working illegally while studying is just not worth it

Mohan K, an Indian-American technologist muses about the futility of such actions in his recent Vlog - Earning 8-10 dollars an hour illegally at what cost?

He asks 

“How many middle class kids in India would work at a Petrol Bunk? Or Wash dishes at a local Dhaba or restaurant …. for a few rupees?”

The same middle-class students willingly and illegally risk their lives in taking on under-the-table jobs to make a quick buck in America. 

Mohan’s appeal to students and parents is simple 

“After spending lakhs to go to the US to study, don’t illegally put your life at risk…. for a few dollars more. It's just not worth it”  

Vivek's untimely death should be a wake-up call for students aspiring to go to America, and to their families that are financing the endeavor - make sure you have the funds to sustain yourself legally. 


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