February 8, 2010

New real-time tracker for JHU internationals

Apple’s new iPad tablet computer might be the gadget of the moment, but Johns Hopkins has its own new piece of technology with the signature lowercase vowel—and those who serve the thousands of JHU internationals eagerly welcomed its arrival.

The university has implemented a new Web-based system to manage the immigration applications and processes related to international students and scholars at all university divisions.

Branded iHopkins, it is a modified version of iOffice, a comprehensive immigration case management system developed by Indiana University and in use by universities nationwide. It replaced the six-year-old i1440 system that was somewhat cumbersome, was never fully implemented at all divisions and would not meet the complete demands of the next generation of SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System), the government’s Web-based system for maintaining information on international students and exchange visitors in the United States.

The university currently has more than 7,000 visiting students, faculty and other scholars in its academic divisions.

SEVIS is administered by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. SEVIS II was scheduled to be implemented in March 2010 but has since been postponed.

“We are now positioned, whenever SEVIS II is launched, to be fully compliant,” said Jennifer Kerilla, director of the Office of International Student, Faculty and Staff Services for the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Kerilla said that iHopkins will be continuously upgraded to ensure it meets any new data requirements of SEVIS II.

In addition to i1440, some divisions previously used SEVIS RTI (for real-time interface), which left Johns Hopkins with no universitywide database for immigrant and nonimmigrant information.

Launched Jan. 14, iHopkins interfaces directly with SEVIS and helps the institution fulfill required nightly reporting to the Department of Homeland Security. The new system is also fully integrated with ISIS, the university’s Integrated Student Information System that provides access to all student records in one location.

The new system will ultimately replace dozens of paper-based processes with electronic ones, and will allow users to upload as PDFs essential documents such as passport pages and I-94 cards.

Nicholas Arrindell, director of International Student and Scholar Services for the Homewood campus, said that the most significant aspect of iHopkins is its capability to interact with registration systems.

“We never had that capability before,” Arrindell said. “Now we can see all the data that is inputted on our international population in one location, and know that it’s accurate and accessible.”

Arrindell said that iHopkins also allows administrative users to “batch” large chunks of data on populations. “Before, we had to do this piece by piece, and it took a long time. It was a sluggish process,” he said.

Users can, for example, notify SEVIS of the arrival of new students and scholars at one time through mass-registration functions rather than single actions. The new system also has a feature that will allow Johns Hopkins to generate reports by country, gender, academic department, year, dependents and other classifications.

Kerilla agrees that iHopkins will be a time saver.

“iHopkins will significantly reduce the amount of time spent performing data entry, increasing efficiency and minimizing data discrepancies,” Kerilla said. “Some schools use SEVIS RTI itself as its management system, but for an institution as large and complex as Johns Hopkins, the university needed a separate system to deal with all the visa classifications we handle.”

In late summer 2009, a team of staff from Student Systems and Educational Technologies, part of IT@Johns Hopkins, and international offices across the institution began the implementation of the new system, which allows international office staff to proactively assist international students and scholars in maintaining their lawful stay without interruption.

iHopkins will provide a variety of online services to international students, scholars and departments. Information technology staff will eventually link iHopkins with the JHU payroll system to facilitate the processing of immigration applications for faculty and staff. A visiting faculty member, for example, will be able to use iHopkins to request a visa application, fill it out online and forward it to the appropriate international office. Arrindell said that this function will eliminate the need to double enter any information.

There are more than 4,000 international students, junior faculty, postdoctoral fellows and visiting faculty on the East Baltimore campus, and Kerilla’s office has the responsibility for reporting on their employment, academic and living status. The iHopkins system has built-in alerts so that administrative staff can immediately know if someone drops below full-time status or changes his or her address.

“We have to know where they are working, that they’re being properly compensated, that they are complying with their visa status and, yes, even where they are sleeping,” she said. “This new system will make our jobs easier, and we’ll be able to better assist students and be more proactive.”

Every campus is working to develop training initiatives and communication strategies for iHopkins. The School of Medicine will host its first targeted training session on Monday, Feb. 15, with a dozen more sessions in development. Other campuses will likely begin them next month.