Establishing additional degree-granting campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai was a significant step for New York University in many respects. It not only increased to 14 the number of countries in which NYU has a physical presence, but also boosted the number of students circulating through the university’s global network.
For the last few years, at its New York City campus, NYU has welcomed more international students than any other U.S. higher education institution. At the same time, we’ve held the top spot for the number of U.S.–based students who annually study abroad, usually at NYU’s portal campuses and its 11 global academic centers in cities ranging from Madrid to Sydney, and from Buenos Aires to Berlin.
A One-Stop Global Support Center
In 2010, recognizing that increasing international engagement could bring greater risk exposure, NYU senior leadership appointed a global framework task force. Its primary goal was to remove barriers, and make global participation and mobility as seamless and routine as possible. In addition to reviewing the support provided to international students and scholars coming to the United States, the task force looked at requirements the university needed to meet when sending students and scholars to other countries. Task force members, for example, assessed risks and developed administrative recommendations related to such areas as immigration compliance, tax guidance (including payroll reporting and individual income tax withholding), safety, travel management, global staffing and support services, financial requirements, and the overall compliance landscape.
One recommendation, implemented in 2013, was to expand the responsibilities of NYU’s Office for International Students and Scholars, and change its name to the Office of Global Services (OGS). This created a one-stop global support center for all students, faculty, and staff either coming to (inbound) or leaving (outbound) the United States for NYU-related study, research, or work. The office continues its traditional role of inbound support providing F1 and J1 visas; optional practical training; and curricular practical training immigration support to the 15,500 international students at NYU. It also offers assistance with J1, H-1B, and permanent residence forms to the 1,200 scholars from outside the United States.
In terms of programming for inbound international students, the office sponsors an annual resource fair as well as workshops related to U.S. immigration forms, taxes, and employment. Spouses and partners of international students and scholars can take advantage of OGS-sponsored English classes, orientation breakfasts, and ongoing support meetings. We also bring the NYU international community together for activities such as a global poetry series and a commencement breakfast for those graduating.
Under the new model, the Office of Global Services also provides support to all outbound students and scholars, whether or not they are U.S. citizens. The university’s expanded services include:
Centralized immigration support. NYU typically sends between 4,000 and 6,000 undergraduate and graduate students abroad annually. Before establishing the OGS, the university relied on its office of global programs and on individual schools to ensure that students obtained the immigration information specific to their personal situation. Now, OGS takes the lead in helping individuals through the immigration process.
One tool we offer free to the NYU community is GlobalChek Plus, an online database that helps students and faculty determine whether a visa, work permit, and/or residence permit is needed based on the purpose and duration of the trip, their citizenship, and the destination.
GlobalChek Plus is usually licensed to corporations or travel agencies, so NYU partnered with an immigration law firm to customize the tool to address academic scenarios—such as going abroad for a one-week athletic event, to study for one semester, or to work for a full year. If the system determines that a visa is needed, the online tool outlines the process, time frame, cost, and required documentation, and even provides a link to download the appropriate applications.
In addition to helping students navigate GlobalChek Plus, our office often conducts on-campus passport drives—so U.S. citizens can easily apply for or renew a U.S. passport—and promotes enrollment in Global Entry. The latter, a U.S. program that expedites the process of returning from abroad, requires an in-person interview, so we reduce the burden on students by bringing officials of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service to campus.
Consulting services. Although working with an OGS adviser isn’t mandatory, most faculty and staff who go abroad for NYU-related activities take advantage of the service. Most immigration rules weren’t written for a university with multiple campuses and academic centers, so we usually meet with the individual to gain a full understanding of the trip’s or assignment’s purpose, and to review what he or she will be doing in the host country so that we can advise on the most appropriate immigration pathway.
Additionally, we analyze tax treaties and their implications for each assignment. If an exemption cannot be claimed, we work with the university’s tax provider to run a tax cost projection for the school or department.
Policy administration. OGS administers NYU’s policies governing international assignments, as established by finance and human resources. These include a tax policy, which ensures that a faculty or staff member is no worse off from an income tax perspective while on assignment; a short-term assignment policy governing international activity lasting more than seven weeks but less than 12 months; and a long-term policy for international assignments ranging from 12 months to three years.
End-to-end support. For any employee going on an international assignment, OGS makes the appropriate connections and ensures all steps of the process are completed. This includes:
- Assisting with the creation and execution of an international assignment letter.
- Arranging tax services for the person heading abroad.
- Informing the international payroll manager of the upcoming assignment.
- Requesting a Social Security certificate of coverage.
- Ensuring that the individual is moved to a global health insurance plan.
- Assisting with travel planning.
- Finding schools for children.
- Arranging for housing and shipping of household goods.
- OGS also manages rental payments, tax and immigration service invoicing, and end-of-year tax and payroll reporting.
With an estimated 20,000 people needing assistance from OGS each year, our staff depends heavily on digital communications. OGS pages on the NYU website—our primary channel for getting information to our communities—average more than 90,000 monthly visitors, and both our Facebook and Twitter accounts reach nearly 30,000 people per month. We’ve integrated our student records with personalized and automatic messages that help students understand and remember requirements and deadlines to maintain U.S. legal status, and several times a month we e-mail newsletters that have an average open rate of 72 percent.
Our communications group periodically conducts focus groups, the results of which prompted us to post OGS videos on YouTube (and to keep those videos under the three-minute mark or risk losing students’ interest). Several graduate students, who are often NYU international students themselves, work in our office as interns to ensure OGS materials remain relevant and easy to understand. Their responsibilities include website usability testing, redesigning communications based on the results of user testing and research, and optimizing e-mail and social media content through insights gained from analytics.
SUBMITTED BY Robert Sanford, associate director, immigration and mobility services, New York University