International postdoctoral policies
Whether in the classroom or in the research laboratory, international scholars play a critical role by contributing special skills and unique perspectives to the university’s teaching, research and outreach mission. Mizzou hosts nearly 500 of the estimated 80,000 international scholars engaged in teaching and research at U.S. institutions annually. The university also enrolls over 1,000 international graduate students annually; many continue their professional development through postdoctoral fellowships at Mizzou. Due to the challenges posed by increasingly restrictive and complex immigration regulations and security measures after Sept. 11, 2001, it is important to highlight several issues unique to international postdoctoral fellows.
Learn more about international scholars »
For the purposes of the postdoctoral policy, international postdoctoral scholars are defined as foreign nationals who have been invited by Mizzou to come to the United States in a non-immigrant classification to pursue teaching, research and other scholarly activities directly related to their primary field of expertise. The most common nonimmigrant classifications used to facilitate participation in postdoctoral training by foreign nationals are the J-1 exchange visitor status and the H-1B alien worker status. The postdoctoral policy will not review the myriad complex regulations and procedures for the J-1 and H-1B status. However, the following issues have been highlighted along with references for further information:
J-1 exchange visitor scholars
The Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) is authorized by the U.S. Department of State and is administered by the MU International Center. Mizzou departments may request the participation of an international scholar through the J-1 EVP but should understand the key regulatory ramifications of this status on the scholar:
- Under the current Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), a federally monitored electronic reporting and record-keeping program, failure to report key events and activities regarding the scholar’s program could result in termination of the scholar’s legal status and loss of work authorization. For example, the scholar must check in with the MU International Center (located in the International Center, N52 Memorial Union) within 30 days of the program start date on the Form DS-2019. Local address changes must be reported by the scholar within 10 days of the change.
- A J-1 scholar transferring from a different U.S. institution should be carefully screened with respect to transfer eligibility.
- The J-1 international scholar must attend the scholar orientation to comply with regulatory requirements.
- The J-1 international scholar must maintain health insurance coverage that meets the minimum coverage requirements stipulated by the U.S. Department of State.
- The J-1 scholar may not accept employment, such as lectures or consulting work, at other institutions without appropriate authorization from Mizzou.
H-1B alien workers
The university may also sponsor or “petition” on behalf of a foreign national to come to the United States in the H-1B alien worker status. At the request of the Mizzou host department, the MU International Center can assist with the administrative processes to initiate the H-petition. Information on the H-status and related issues may be reviewed at the International Center website. Key issues that should be noted for H-1B postdoctoral scholars:
- H-1B status can take two to four months to process, and employment cannot begin until approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
- H-1B status may be portable among different employers, but care must be taken to screen candidates for transfer eligibility.
- Changes in the position, title or employer should be discussed with the MU International Center prior to making any changes. Otherwise the H-1B status may be invalidated.
- The host department assumes certain financial obligations when sponsoring an H-1B employee.
Other issues regarding H-1B scholars should be reviewed closely by the hosting department and the visiting scholar at the MU International Center website »
Changing immigration status
A potential pitfall in the U.S. immigration environment that might impact an international scholar is the period of transition that occurs during a change of nonimmigrant status or during an adjustment of status from nonimmigrant to immigrant. These processes are very complex and lengthy; in some cases, they take years to resolve. Mizzou postdoctoral fellows pursuing changes or adjustments of status should keep their host departments and the MU International Center informed of updates, changes and delays related to their cases to avoid serious legal problems, particularly in regards to employment eligibility. The university does not sponsor postdoctoral fellows for employment-based permanent resident petitions.
Mizzou has developed a policy pertaining to the types of individuals eligible for MU International Center assistance for employment-based permanent residence petitions at the MU International Center site »
Non-resident alien taxation
International postdoctoral scholars may be subject to income tax withholding depending on citizenship, length of stay in the United States and other factors. Postdoctoral fellows should be referred to the Nonresident Alien Taxation Specialist for advice and assistance.
The increasing mobility of international students and scholars around the world introduces greater opportunities for cultural adjustment difficulties and communication challenges. Although many foreign scholars use the English language very effectively within their academic or research specialty, conversing and comprehending conversations in more routine settings may pose significant challenges. The work environment at an American research institution might also introduce the international scholar to unfamiliar protocols, procedures or performance expectations of supervisors and colleagues. Institutional administrative procedures could give the impression of an impersonal and unfriendly bureaucratic environment. Mizzou departments can greatly reduce the discomfort and depersonalization that visiting international scholars sometimes experience with help from International Center resources:
Departments should provide clear expectations to international scholars regarding job duties and workplace conduct.
- Job description - Provide a detailed written description of the responsibilities and duties of the postdoctoral position.
- Schedule - Provide clear communication on work schedule requirements.
- Progress - Meet regularly with the postdoctoral fellow to evaluate progress.
- Time off - Discuss notification procedures for absences due to illness, accidents or personal/vacation time.
- Conduct - Provide guidance on workplace conduct, including appropriate dress, lunch breaks, etc.
- Safety - Provide appropriate training and guidance on workplace safety procedures and compliance regulations.
Social support networks
International scholars might require greater assistance in making connections with Mizzou and the local community. The International Center is one of many campus outlets that can help direct visiting scholars to available resources.