Addressing the Needs of F-2 Wives in the United States: A Comparison of Two Educational Institutions

Addressing the Needs of F-2 Wives in the United States: A Comparison of Two Educational Institutions

Samit Dipon Bordoloi (Western Washington University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9749-2.ch007
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The author analyzes the impact of current university regulations and policies on the everyday lives of wives of international students. The research process involved interviews with twenty-six women, located at two educational institutions, who came to the US on an F-2 visa (student dependent visa). It also included analysis of documents related to immigration policies and university regulations that had a direct impact on the experiences of wives of international students. The findings show that F-2 wives' adjustment experiences are strongly influenced by the level of institutional support provided by the university. The chapter concludes with recommendations for federal and university policies that create a welcoming environment for international students and their families.
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Students aspiring to come to the United States for higher education can be admitted only within specific visa categories that allow them to enroll in an approved educational institution. Although there are a number of such categories, the majority of international students within enter on an F-1 visa, a non-immigrant visa assigned for the specific purpose of higher educational study (IIE, 2009). Spouses can accompany the student as F-2 visa holders if they can document a legal marriage.

Understanding the experiences of spouses of international students’ requires researchers to acknowledge the gendered nature of the issue. In official documents the gender-neutral term “spouse” is used when referring to married partners of international students. However, a closer look at the numbers show that higher education migration is a gendered phenomenon. While no official numbers on spouses of international students in the United States are available, some inference can be made based on published reports. Research shows that about 19% of the international student population in the United States is married and that the vast majority of them are graduate students, 60% of whom are male (Bhandari & Chow, 2008). Immigration scholarship has shown that husbands are less likely to follow wives as dependents to another country due to the patriarchal organization of families in most societies (Pessar, 1999; Purkayastha, 2005). The limited research on spouses of international students has identified this population as overwhelmingly female (Martens & Grant, 2008).

One of the most important characteristics of the F-2 visa status is that individuals are unable to seek work or enroll in full-time courses (Kim, 2006). They cannot obtain a social security number (required of any non-immigrant to engage in lawful employment within the United States). The absence of a social security card means that spouses of international students encounter a number of bureaucratic hurdles while engaging in normal social and economic activities, such as opening a bank account, seeking utilities in their own name or getting a driver’s license. These restrictions ensure that for the spouses of international students their stay in the United States is entirely contingent on their partner’s academic plans and career aspirations (Schwartz & Kahne, 1993; Vogel, 1985). Not all countries share similar restrictions on accompanying spouses. For example, in Canada (Studying in Canada, 2010) and Great Britain (Students INF5, 2009) spouses of international students are allowed to engage in education and employment. Thus, wives of international students who enter the United States on a dependent visa status experience a different set of challenges than those in other countries.

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