The University is looking to speed up the way it handles international student visas, purchasing new software to bring the process online for the first time.
The software will allow the International Services Office to handle requests from a rising number of foreign students, which totaled 3,560 undergraduate and graduate students this year. It marks the latest big investment to help accommodate an international student population that’s expected to reach 15 percent of all undergraduates over the next decade.
Greg Leonard, who leads the ISO, said the software keeps track of paperwork for I-20 forms, which are required for all international students but can take several weeks for both GW and the federal government to process.
The new software, which Leonard said last year would cost between $10,000 and $18,000, will improve many of the office’s functions, from digitizing the forms students submit to the offices to improving communication throughout the process.
Timely completion of those forms is important, Leonard said, because otherwise students could not receive visas on time to attend GW. On rare occasions, he said students’ forms are so delayed that they cannot come to the U.S. for at least a semester, a problem that is growing nationally as more universities actively increase international recruitment.
“It is one of the most difficult steps in part because it’s a go/no-go situation. You get the visa and an opportunity to pursue your dreams, or you don’t get the visa and you go back to your home to reevaluate your life’s plans,” Leonard said.
GW has increased services for international students across aspects of the University in preparation for the strategic plan’s implementation. International students typically pay full tuition, a plus for the tuition-dependent University.
Tianyu Ye, a senior from China, said waiting for the I-20 to be completely processed can take up to two or three months. He said having clearer instructions from GW’s office would also help speed along the process.
He added that international students sometimes struggle with filling out standard forms in a language which they typically do not use.
“It would also be helpful if we can also get an example of how to prepare the financial statements in English. I think that would also be helpful, because we can do it by our own, but our life can be made easier,” Ye said.
GW purchased the software, called Sunapsis, from Indiana University this year. But Leonard said it will take several years to be fully in place because his office must determine the best way to adapt the technology to GW’s current organization.
While the federal government requires forms like the I-20 to be filled out on paper, Sunapsis will allow the University to conduct a greater part of the visa process digitally.
The program allows international service workers to separate cases by staff members and will alert the them when there is an update on their case.
Seventeen other schools, including Pennsylvania State University and the University of Kansas, have already bought the software, according to their websites.
But Leonard said multiple schools have warned of a multi-year implementation plan.
“Some schools have been using the product for 4 to 5 years and say that they have not yet fully implemented all its available features and functionalities,” Leonard said.
The Center for Student Engagement, Career Center and University Counseling Center have also tried to offer more support for international students, such as specialized staffers to help students assimilate into American college life.