Office helps international scholars navigate through the complex immigration system
Every year, hundreds of visiting scholars come to Virginia Tech to perform research, teach, or engage in other scholarly activity. Nearly all of them get help with visa and immigration issues from International Support Services. Director Ian Leuschner talks about the services his office offers and how it promotes internationalization on campus.
What does your office do?
The Office of International Support Services is primarily involved in supporting the nonstudent visa process at the university. We do all the visas for visiting scholars and work visas for faculty and staff, and we support the permanent residency process for other employees as well.
Are there a lot of people at Virginia Tech who need visas to be here?
For sure, there are several thousand students who are managed by different offices. But we also have probably 400 to 500 J-1 visiting scholars. Anywhere between 150 and 200 people are here on working visas as well.
On the web
International Support Services maintains a travel website, vt.edu/immigration, that was created after President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration. Leuschner says the site aims to keep the university community up to date on the travel ban and other related topics.
Why does the university bring in so many foreign nationals?
Virginia Tech is in the business of identifying the most talented people to fill the positions that are open, without regard to a candidate’s country of origin. So when the search is conducted and it turns out the person selected is from a country other than the United States, then it’s our office’s job to assist that person in acquiring the proper immigration status so they can legally work at the university.
What are some of the dramatic problems you’ve had?
We work hard to avoid dramatic problems; part of our responsibility is to make the process as seamless and easy as possible. But in the past couple of years we’ve seen significant delays in the processing time for applications and petitions that we file. And folks from certain countries of origin are experiencing very long delays in applying for visas at the U.S. Embassy or consulate in their home country.
Do you deal with people once they’re here, or do you just get their paperwork when they come to campus and never see them again?
We tend to work with people for a period of a year or several years, depending on their country of origin. In the past couple years, we’ve been seeing people longer than we used to. Typically, people come on a temporary working visa, and for many employees we need to transition them to a “green card” or permanent residency. That process takes anywhere from two to six years, depending on where they are coming from and the category they are applying through.
How important is it for Virginia Tech to have this international talent?
I think it’s critical. What is typically happening is the university is running searches and is identifying the most talented people in the pool. And we want to be able to onboard those folks, regardless of where they are from. So when the university identifies the most talented person, and they happen to be a non-U.S. citizen or a national, then it’s important for us to be able to have a process in place to ease their transition to Virginia Tech.
What else is part of the onboarding process other than the visa?
We do orient the J visiting scholars, or the person who manages that program does an orientation session to try and acclimate those folks to the university community and the services that are available.
What do you wish the university community knew about your office that they don’t seem to know?
Start early. It always takes longer than you think it will take to process these applications. People often come to us very late in the hiring process, almost as an afterthought, and then want somebody to start in what is often an unrealistic time frame because it just takes it longer to prepare the paperwork and get it filed. Often times we’re waiting for an approval. People think that happens in a week or two, and that is just not the case. We are dealing with several months at the earliest — often up to six or eight months.
What’s the most common question you get asked during the process?
“How long is it going to take?” Always, always that is the most common question we hear. “How much is it going to cost?” and “What do we have to pay?” — those are the questions we get. By far the most frequent is “How long will it take?”
Sounds like you don’t like the answer that you have to give ...
We don’t, but of course the people who are receiving the answer like it even less.