International Scholars Office
The International Scholars Office (ISO) enables MIT faculty and staff to bring international researchers and professors to campus for a variety of purposes. The ISO advises on immigration matters, issues visa documents, and provides guidance, workshops and literature on a wide range of issues relevant to the international scholar population. Weekly orientation sessions are held for incoming scholars and family members. The ISO also engages in advocacy efforts to protect international educational exchange, prevent burdensome regulations, and clarify and improve related regulations and procedures.
The ISO served a total of 1,641 international scholars who were affiliated with MIT during the period from July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2002, down from 1,679 last year. The ISO also served the accompanying family members of scholars and other members of the MIT community. According to HRIS data, over 60 percent of MIT's postdoctoral associates and fellows are foreign, as are over 50 percent of "visiting" appointees. During the past year, international scholars came to MIT from 82 countries, with the highest number coming from the People's Republic of China (181), Japan (166), Germany (158), Republic of Korea (120), France (88), Canada (86), India (85), Italy (79), the United Kingdom (69), Israel (46), and Russia (46). MIT ranks fifth nationally among institutions hosting the most foreign scholars.
In the past year, the ISO worked closely with administrators in 67 departments, laboratories, and centers, and prepared the appropriate visa documents or petitions for incoming and continuing scholars and their families. The areas hosting the largest number of scholars are the following, in descending order: Chemistry, Biology, Sloan School of Management, Research Laboratory of Electronics, Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Laboratory for Nuclear Science, and Center for Learning and Memory.
The majority of MIT's international scholars are sponsored on MIT's J-1 exchange visitor program. There were 1,005 scholars under MIT's J-1 program sponsorship during the 2000-2001 period, and an additional 78 here through other J sponsors. There were also 246 scholars who were sponsored by MIT on the H-1B visa, reflecting a steady increase over 225 H-1B scholars in 2000-2001 and 185 in 1999-2000. There were 10 international scholars on campus this year whose O-1 visas were sponsored by MIT. The rest of the scholar population had other sponsors or nonimmigrant categories. (Note that some of the 1641 scholars held more than one visa status over the course of the reporting period.) The ISO also submitted 18 permanent-residence petitions to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) on behalf of MIT faculty members and upper-level researchers.
The impact of September 11 pervaded MIT's international scholar population. Fear of anti-immigrant reprisals, travel restrictions, fear of discrimination, detention or deportation, and rumors were common in the international community. The MIT upper administration showed tremendous support for this population and for the ISO. The reaction of the administration was key in reducing fear, offering assistance and restating the Institute's intolerance of racial and ethnic harassment or discrimination of any kind. The strong reassurance of the international community was evidence of MIT's respect for and commitment to diversity and multiculturalism. In the days and weeks following the terrorist attacks, the arrivals of new and returning international scholars were delayed and scholars were stranded abroad as more than 50 US embassies and consulates closed and planes were grounded. With the assistance of the ISO, most anticipated visitors were eventually able to secure visas and enter the United States to begin their MIT teaching and research. Some scholars had already arrived for the fall when the terrorist attacks occurred on September 11, 2001. ISO quarterly reports do not show a decline in scholar numbers for fall 2001 compared to fall of 2000. However, statistical reports from January to June 2002 show a decline of approximately two percent compared with the same period the previous year.
The events of September 11 focused the attention of Congress and government agencies on the processes through which foreign nationals obtain visas, are inspected at ports of entry and are monitored during their stays in the United States The director of the ISO and other members of the MIT administration assembled quickly to develop a protocol for dealing with inquiries from law enforcement, FBI, the Immigration Service or other agencies regarding members of the MIT community. An unprecedented amount of legislation was proposed and implemented, significantly affecting the international population. These include the USA PATRIOT Act, the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, and the Homeland Security Presidential Directives. As a result, consular procedures, immigration forms, government agency and border crossing procedures, and immigration regulations changed. Department of State security clearance checks were implemented and enforced. The ISO kept abreast of these changes, advising scholars and their families on their effects. ISO advocated against a moratorium on the issuance of visas to international students and scholars, distributed periodic updated advisories to international scholars and MIT departments, labs and centers on visa delays, security clearances, travel and maintaining valid immigration status. ISO publications and website were also updated with each new procedural change. Throughout this period, Jack Crowley, Vice President for Federal Relations, informed the ISO of developments anticipated to have an effect on the international population at MIT.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), an electronic system to track the visa issuance, arrival and presence of international students and scholars in the United States has been fast-tracked. Institutions are mandated to implement the system by January 2003, though the section most relevant to exchange visitors has not yet been released by the INS. The ISO director and assistant director have examined the released version of the "student" component of the system and the relevant regulations from INS. They also attended meetings where the provisions of the anticipated scholar regulations were discussed and they are preparing the ISO for compliance.
The director and assistant director continued to serve on the NAFSA Employment Based Working Group, providing information for use in government advocacy by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Dana Bresee Keeth concluded her term on NAFSA's national Committee on Immigration Policy and Practice, but remained active as chair of the Working Group on Exchange Visitor Issues. Dana and Penny Rosser participated in the Ivy League annual meeting in Chicago. They, as well as advisors Mary Schrot and Sharon Ralston, participated in the Boston Area Responsible Officers group meetings. The Department of Labor published a lengthy proposed rule affecting the H-1B visa category and the process of permanent labor certification, to which the ISO will respond in detail.
In addition to advising, preparing immigration documents, running a weekly orientation program, and providing extensive written and web-based information, the ISO sponsored an annual tax workshop, and sponsored the annual fall International Open House for newcomers in partnership with the International Students Office. The ISO also held workshops for new administrators in departments, laboratories and centers regarding visa processing.
In spring of 2002, ISO bid farewell to Dana Bresee Keeth, who left her position as director to spend more time with her family. However, ISO is pleased to report that we will benefit from her expertise as a part-time advisor for International Scholars on advocacy issues. Penny Rosser was appointed acting director and, after a national search, was appointed director of the ISO effective July 1, 2002. Michael Welch left his position as administrative assistant in December 2001, and the ISO was fortunate to hire Amanda Doran as our newest staff member. Sharon Ralston and Mary Schrot continue in their positions as advisors, providing thoughtful advising, programming and invaluable assistance to the international scholar population and their families.
More information about the International Scholars Office may be found in the ISO annual report on the web at http://web.mit.edu/scholars/.