Vis-à-vis with UND’s visa pros

Division of Academic Affairs streamlines application processes for international students and faculty

Katie Davidson, Amy Senger, Shannon Mikula, Casey Hoffman and Kevin Kuntz

UND’s team of international visa experts stand ready to help students and faculty with a more streamlined application process after changes were implemented by the Division of Academic Affairs. (Left to Right) International Center Director Katie Davidson, Assistant Director of the International Center Amy Senger, Academic Affairs Officer Shannon Mikula, Academic Affairs Administrative Associate Casey Hoffman and Kevin Kuntz, a tax specialist in the UND Payroll Office. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

When academic departments hire international faculty and staff to work at the University, they’re often surprised by how complex the visa application process can be.

That’s why the Division of Academic Affairs has streamlined the process.

“Applying for visas on behalf of new faculty and staff can be a lengthy and confusing process,” said Shannon Mikula, academic affairs officer. “Our goal is to be the point of contact for departments.”

“We’re here to help departments navigate the process and file paperwork, such as gathering and organizing documentation, and making sure we meet federal requirements,” said Casey Hoffman, administrative associate in Academic Affairs.

“The depth of documentation for the employer is often daunting to departments,” said Mikula. The sooner we get involved, the better.”

Variety of visas

All international citizens who work at the University as faculty, staff or visiting scholars, or who come to UND as students, are required to have visas. Most international faculty and staff have H-1B visas, which are issued to tenure-track faculty, long-term academic researchers, and professional staff. They are generally issued for three years and employees can be in H1-B status for up to six years.

All H-1B visa requests for faculty and staff are arranged through Academic Affairs.

Visiting faculty and scholars, including exchange students, need J-1 visas, degree-seeking international students need F-1 visas, and vocational students such as aerospace students trained on contract need M-1 visas. These services are provided through the International Center.

The School of Medicine and Health Sciences, in conjunction with the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, processes J-1 visas for medical residents. For all other SMHS employees, J-1 visa services are provided through the International Center.

Residents of Canada and Mexico may apply for TN visas, and Academic Affairs can assist with renewals.

Processing time

Employers are responsible for applying for the visas, and the process can take eight to 12 months to complete. Mikula said that it takes four to six weeks for UND to prepare the visa petition, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service can take up to nine months to issue a decision.

“H-1B visas are for specialty occupations,” said Hoffman, who added they process about 15 requests per year, with a similar number of renewals.

New security requirements have increased processing time.

“People are surprised by how much detail is involved, and how important it is to have the right information in the proper format,” said Mikula. “International workers can’t come to the United States for employment purposes until the appropriate visa is secured.”

Departments, the University, and international employees and students must all pay fees for the service.

There are also tax considerations, and departments who hire faculty or staff on a visa must go through the payroll office.

“We need to meet with departments to get immigration information, citizenship, and tax residence information so we can pay people properly,” said Kevin Kuntz, tax specialist in the payroll office. He added that his office has specialized software to assist international employees in navigating complicated tax circumstances.

“We also handle I-9 compliance to ensure that immigration status qualifies for employment, said Kuntz.” Without this, Kuntz said, the University is subject to fines and penalties.

Student process

International student visas, along with those for visiting scholars, are processed by the International Center, located in Room 261 of the Memorial Union. The J-1 program is for visiting professors, research scholars, exchange students and short-term scholars.

“International students go through quite a process to come to UND,” said Katie Davidson, director of the International Center. “They want to be here, and they have high retention rates and good grades.” International students number 800 to 1,000, depending on the year.

“Anyone who comes to the University on a visa has to keep their information up-to-date and maintain their status or leave the United States,” said Amy Senger, assistant director of the International Center. “They are very well-vetted.”

“It’s not an easy process to get here,” said Katie Davidson. “International students are so brave to come to a different country and culture and take classes in what may not be their first language. They really want to be at UND.”