Foreign national postdoctoral trainees make significant contributions to the teaching and research mission of the University of Pennsylvania. In view of increasingly complex immigration and labor laws, university-wide policies and procedures that directly impact the flow of foreign nationals to the University of Pennsylvania should be carefully defined and are outlined below.
Effective September 1, 2008, all foreign nationals holding a postdoctoral trainee position should come to the University of Pennsylvania in an exchange visitor (J-1) status.
Only in compelling circumstances and only following a thorough review will the University sponsor a postdoctoral fellow for an H-1B visa (Temporary Specialty Worker) petition. Such circumstances requiring review for exemption from the new policy could include (though are not necessarily limited to):
A mechanism for an appeal and review is provided if a department has strong basis for offering a postdoctoral trainee the H-1B visa. The Vice Provost for Research (VPR) will appoint an advisory committee to review the petitions for exceptions to determine if an appeal meets the exemption criteria. Based on the advisory committee’s recommendation the VPR will make the final determination about each petition. The advisory committee and the VPR may also consult with the Office of the General Counsel and the Office of International Programs (OIP-ISSS) as necessary.
When a department feels that an H-1B visa is required in lieu of a J-1, the hiring department will prepare a formal written petition with documenting evidence for review. The Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR) will review the merits of the case, make a final determination, and provide a written response to the department requesting the review. Once a final decision has been made, the department needs to be in full compliance and can proceed with bringing in the foreign national under the appropriate visa category. If the OVPR approves a request to offer H-1B sponsorship for the trainee, the hiring department will then submit the necessary paperwork to OIP-ISSS. The H-1B application submitted to OIP-ISSS must include the written exception approval granted by the OVPR. No action will be taken on an H-1B application without the written approval of the OVPR and the reason for the exemption.
To avoid communication problems that could arise regarding the recruitment of foreign nationals for a postdoctoral trainee position, departments must clearly discuss the visa policy with the prospective postdoctoral trainee early in the process. In cases where exceptions are granted by the review board, departments must inform the candidate of the board’s decision before the application for J-1 or H-1B visa status is submitted to OIP-ISSS. Questions from the foreign national received by OIP-ISSS regarding the status of any cases currently under review by OVPR will be referred to the hiring department.
To ensure compliance with visa regulations, the department is responsible for initiating the application process on behalf of the beneficiary (whether it is an H or J process). The “Department Contact Person” (DCP) who is responsible for filing the application should serve as the primary contact for the J-1 or H-1B application in question. Once the visa status has been determined, all questions to OIP-ISSS should come from the department contact person. The DCP is the official point of communication for both OIP-ISSS and the candidate.
Originally published in the Almanac
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