• Plan ahead. Whether you're planning for grad school, internship, postdoc or a job, send in your visa applications as soon as possible. "If you wait until the last minute, you're going to be in trouble," says Jieun Lee of the University of Maryland. "It's just more stress." In recent years, security reviews have led to a huge backlog in visa processing and sometimes months-long delays for international graduate students and postdocs. Responding to complaints from APA and other education, science and engineering groups, the State Department announced in June that it had hired additional staff and revised procedures to tackle the backlog.

  • Tap your international student affairs office. These offices have staff devoted to helping international students solve their visa and other problems and often host seminars on immigration issues and related topics. If your university's office doesn't have all the information you need, consult Web sites of the international student offices at other schools, Lee suggests.

  • Ask around. Meet other international students and faculty—even if they're in other departments or universities—and ask how they have handled the immigration or visa challenges you're facing. Getting connected helps both practically and emotionally, says Chetan Joshi, PhD, of Franklin and Marshall College. "One of the things that makes this experience difficult is the feeling that you're the only one in this boat," he says.

—R.A. Clay

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