International Scholars Office

The International Scholars Office (ISO) facilitates the visas for international researchers and professors, who come to MIT 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.

International Scholar Population

The ISO served international scholars who were affiliated with MIT and their accompanying family members of scholars, as well as other members of the MIT community. During the past year, international scholars came to MIT from 78 countries, with the highest numbers coming from People's Republic of China, Japan, Germany, Republic of Korea, Canada, India, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, and Israel. Among institutions hosting the most foreign scholars, MIT ranks fourth nationally. 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, the ISO worked closely with administrators in 72 departments, laboratories, and centers, preparing 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: Sloan School of Management; Chemistry; Biology; Mechanical Engineering; Research Laboratory of Electronics; Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences; Chemical Engineering; Materials Science and Engineering; Mathematics; and the Picower Center for Learning and Memory.

The majority of MIT's international scholars are sponsored on MIT's J-1 exchange visitor program. There were over 900 scholars under MIT's J-1 program sponsorship during the 2002–2003 period, and an additional 72 were here through other J sponsors. There were 316 scholars on campus in H-1B status, sponsored by MIT. This reflects a 120 percent increase in just 5 years (148 H-1B in 1998-99). There were 11 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 scholars held more than one visa status over the course of the reporting period.) The ISO also submitted 25 permanent residence petitions to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) on behalf of MIT faculty members and upper-level researchers, more than in any previous year.

Activities and Accomplishments

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), an electronic government system to track the visa issuance, arrival, and presence of international students and scholars in the United States, was fast-tracked by the federal government after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In mid-December 2002, the Department of State published a rule mandating that all institutions hosting J-1 exchange visitors implement the new system by January 2003 and begin issuing all documents for new visitors through SEVIS. All institutions were required to apply for redesignation of their J-1 exchange visitor programs by the Department of State. The ISO worked diligently to inform the Institute of the new SEVIS document requirements, obtain the necessary computer hardware and software upgrades, including a new server and SEVIS compatible database software, acquire SEVIS authorization and familiarity, and generate all new scholar records and documents using the SEVIS system. The system has been fraught with problems, including errors, bugs, and delays. The ISO began testing and using the "batch" capabilities of SEVIS in late spring. The government's SEVIS upgrades have not yet solved its many limitations in functionality. However, ISO staff members are committed to meeting the August 1, 2003 deadline for entering all remaining J-1 scholars and their J-2 family members into SEVIS and providing them all with new SEVIS-compliant documents.

Staff members are active in NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Sharon Ralston, senior advisor, presented at the NAFSA New England regional conference. Penny Rosser, director, presented at three sessions nationally and serves on two NAFSA working groups. The ISO continues to provide information for use in government advocacy through these working groups and in communication with Jack Crowley, vice president for federal relations, and Alice Gast, vice president for research and associate provost. Penny Rosser was among the members of an MIT working group convened to discuss student and scholar visa issues and restrictions in light of new directives from the Department of Homeland Security. She also participated in the Ivy League annual meeting at Dartmouth College, and ISO advising staff participated regularly in the Boston Area Responsible Officers group meetings.

As the federal government pursues its "Secure Borders. Open Doors." initiative, the Institute continues to grapple with a steady flow of changes in federal agency organization, functions and procedures, legislation, and regulations as these developments pertain to MIT's international population. The Immigration and Naturalization Service was dissolved in March 2003, and its functions were moved into three newly created bureaus within the new Department of Homeland Security. In the interest of tightening security, the government implemented a variety of measures: an interim electronic reporting mechanism as a precursor to SEVIS; increased security checks on both immigration-related applications submitted within the United States and visa applications for those seeking entry or reentry from abroad; a series of special registration requirements for nationals of 26 countries; and numerous other changes. The ISO has remained engaged in constructive dialog about these developments, communicated new mandates and procedures to scholars and host departments, laboratories and centers, and tried to prepare the Institute for the now common delays and difficulties with scholar travel, immigration and visa applications, as well as periodic denials. In addition to engagement in these issues, the ISO submitted comment letters to government agencies in response to proposed rules on various topics including the duration of stay for J-1 exchange visitors, specific forms used by the Exchange Visitor Program, SEVIS, prevailing wage guidelines for H-1B and permanent residence applications, procedures and regulations governing permanent residence applications involving labor certification, and electronic submission of immigration applications.

In addition to advising, preparing immigration documents, advocacy, running a weekly orientation program, and providing extensive written and web-based information, the ISO sponsored its annual tax workshop, and sponsored a fall reception for newly arrived international scholars. The ISO also held workshops for new administrators in departments, laboratories, and centers regarding visa processing.


Penny Rosser was appointed director of the ISO effective July 1, 2002. Sharon Ralston was promoted to senior advisor to international scholars, Amanda Doran moved into the assistant advisor to international scholars position, and Fumiko Futai was hired as administrative assistant in September 2002. Jennifer Stephens retired from her part-time advisor position in the ISO in December 2002 and Mary Schrot left the ISO in April 2003.

In October 2002, the ISO gratefully received a 2002 MIT Excellence Award for Exceptional Achievement. This award was bestowed on "The International Scholars Office and International Students Office Team" of Dana Bresee Keeth, former ISO director, Penny Rosser, current director, and Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook, International Students Office director, in recognition of the many challenges in the international student and scholar arena that these offices meet on a daily basis.

Penny Rosser

More information about the International Scholars Office may be found on the web at


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