International Scholars Visa Request Process Improvement

Background and Identified Problems

The hiring of non-US citizens for faculty positions is governed by guidelines established by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Within the University of Washington, the process of ensuring that positions are correctly advertised and that the appropriate visa is requested is facilitated by the International Scholars Office (ISO) and Academic Human Resources (AHR), working in conjunction with the requesting Department, College, Campus or School (“Unit”). The process was complex, time intensive, and was resulting in a variety of complaints from end-users. The core issues were:

  • The routing of materials to support the request for a new visa was cumbersome and involved documentation being routed back and forth between the requesting Unit, ISO, and AHR.
  • The online forms at the core of the process had been built using technology that prevented users from saving their progress. The forms were long and required significant volumes of data, causing them to be difficult to complete during a single entry period, and resulting in high levels of frustration for users and ineffective use of time.

Goals

  • Alter the internal review and approval process between ISO and AHR to ensure proper review at the beginning of the process in order to prevent processing delays throughout the span of the visa request lifecycle.
  • Redesign forms for optimal use by Unit administrators, AHR approvers, and ISO team.
  • Promote efficient review of positions by AHR.
  • Increase ISO efficiencies in translating information from the forms to the various third party systems for visa facilitation.
  • Provide better data to Units on the status of requests
  • Decrease processing time

Solutions

  • Change the flow of how forms move within AHR to decrease processing time. ISO is now the primary contact for the Units, but AHR will continue to receive email notifications.
  • Reduce the number of online visa request forms from three to two, one for “J” visas and another for “H”, “TN”, and “E-3″ visas.
  • Create intake forms for the Units to gather information internally in advance of completing the online forms
  • Create a process to generate a tracking number upon submission of the request so the progress of the application can be more easily monitored.
  • Merge ISO into AHR creating one cohesive team within AHR. (See “International Appointments Initiative” for more details on this.)

Results

  • The internal review and approval process between ISO and AHR was amended to allow assessment of appointment related information prior to labor intensive processing by Units.
  • Units are now offered a single point of contact for visa request status and baselines have been targeted to show a steady decrease in processing and approval times.
  • New web forms and tools were created as specifically requested by the Units during the initial survey.
  • Increased communication, transparency and clarity for the Units, as well as for AHR and ISO, around roles and policy issues related to visas.
  • Increased adherence to University policy and federal regulations relating to international scholars, visas and appointments.

Measurable Benefits

  • Start to Finish processing time for H visas has decreased by 9 days since the new process was initiated.
  • A survey was conducted in Winter 2011 to assess the state of user satisfaction with the process. A follow up survey is currently being designed.

Future Steps

  • Solicit feedback from users as to the impact of the process changes.
  • Determine if and how to make the request forms save-able.
  • Implement ticketing system to make it easier to manage requests and improve visibility of where applications are in the process.