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March 5, 2009

View From Outside the Classroom

Recruiting and retaining the best faculty are critical for Pitt’s continuing success. And in today’s global market, that often means going beyond the borders of the United States and hiring faculty from all over the world.

Hiring international faculty may seem daunting, confusing and complex to academic departments, but it need not be so. While U.S. government policies and regulations since 9/11 have made recruiting international talent more difficult, Pitt’s Office of International Services (OIS) has been able to successfully navigate the new regulatory maze not only to ensure institutional compliance but also to enable academic departments to maximize their options when it comes to recruiting and retaining the best international faculty.

International faculty may come to the University on a variety of non-immigrant visas, which allow foreign nationals to come to the United States for a temporary period of time for a limited purpose:

• J-1 Professors or Research Scholars: A professor for J-1 purposes is an individual primarily teaching, lecturing, observing or consulting at post-secondary accredited educational institutions, museums, libraries or similar types of institutions. A professor may also conduct research, unless disallowed by the sponsor. A research scholar for J-1 purposes is an individual primarily conducting research, observing or consulting in connection with a research project at research institutions, corporate research facilities, museums, libraries, post-secondary accredited educational institutions or similar types of institutions. The research scholar may also teach or lecture, unless disallowed by the sponsor.

• H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers: A “specialty occupation” for H-1B purposes is an occupation that requires “(A) theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge, and (B) attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.”

• O-1 Aliens of Extraordinary Ability: The O-1 nonimmigrant category is for the employment of foreign nationals who have achieved and sustained national or international acclaim for extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics.

Each of these classifications has its own set of qualifying criteria, as well as its own set of limitations in terms of the amount of time a non-immigrant may remain in the United States in that status. For example, J-1 Professors or Research Scholars generally only may remain in the United States in that status for five years, while H-1B workers may remain here for up to six years. There are many other factors that OIS would discuss with the academic department before determining the most appropriate visa classification for an incoming international faculty member. For example, J-1 visa regulations preclude placing visiting faculty members in the tenure stream, but the H-1B visa is very appropriate for tenure-stream hires.

While international faculty members usually begin in one of these non-immigrant visa classifications, they ultimately may seek to remain in the United States permanently. When this also is in the interest of the University and consistent with the department’s goals, the academic department may work with OIS to seek U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status on behalf of the international faculty member. By utilizing OIS services early in the faculty member’s employment, the stress and anxiety of immigration issues can be relieved so that the new faculty member can focus on teaching, research and the tenure process. With few exceptions, OIS has the in-house expertise to process LPR petitions internally, which cuts costs and ensures greater control of the process.

While any faculty hiring situation involves a variety of complex personal and professional factors for the candidate, this process often is even more complex with international faculty because they have the added anxiety about their ability to remain in the United States and not have their career trajectory derailed due to immigration issues. They also often have concerns about dependent visa issues for family members, particularly since most dependent visa classifications (e.g., H-4, O-3, etc.) do not allow spouses to work in this country. The ability of OIS staff to address these concerns in an appropriate and sensitive manner is often a factor for an international faculty recruit when deciding whether to accept Pitt’s offer. OIS works closely with the hiring department and the international recruit to get the dependent spouse in a visa status that will allow employment when that is preferred.

The ability of the hiring department, in coordination with OIS, to address these issues can make the difference between an academic department successfully recruiting its No. 1 choice or having to go back to the drawing board. Departments are encouraged to engage OIS early in the recruitment and selection process in order to most efficiently facilitate the immigration-related aspects of the new hire and ensure acceptance of the offer.

In a recent situation in the School of Law, OIS worked closely with the dean’s office on offers to two international faculty recruits. Dean Mary Crossley wrote, “[OIS services and expertise] made a real difference in my negotiations with these candidates to be able to let them know that OIS would help them address their residency and work status questions.”

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the ways OIS can be of similar assistance to you.

David Bryan Clubb is director of the Office of International Services. He can be reached at or 4-7123.

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