New system helps onboard international students and scholars

October 31, 2019

The Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) introduced a new vendor-based system, called International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) in July. OISS and other departments will use ISSS to issue visa documents, administer student and scholar data, communicate with students and scholars, and maintain compliance with Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE)/ the US Department of Homeland Security.

The prior system, implemented in 2002, was outdated and inefficient. It lacked self-service functionality for students and the ability to sync data real-time from the government system. There were accessibility issues with the user interface and multiple vulnerabilities discovered during Yale’s IT security design review process. Other limitations included the lack of opportunity for improvement through future enhancements, ability to configure business processes (workflow) for faculty and administrators, and reporting options. Locally hosted, the system required ongoing system maintenance, timely deployment of regulatory (problematic) application changes, and disaster recovery planning. The new cloud-based system eliminates the need for in-house maintenance and ensures that regulatory changes to forms and government database fields are made quickly.

The new ISSS system with its robust features, can be configured per Yale’s business requirements - including student and scholar self-service functionality, automated email communications, and workflows. There is a download/real-time sync feature with the government system and a reporting module. In addition, a published roadmap of future releases is in place that will continue to enhance the user interface for ISSS administrators, students, scholars, and faculty. Lastly, the security design review found no issues.

Student data flows from the student information system (Banner) to ISSS, and from ISSS to the government Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The SEVIS import process performs a validation of student’s address data. The older system resulted in address formatting issues, causing student’s record to be rejected and a manual intervention to correct the data in Banner. The new system uses an automated process developed to validate/re-format the student address data in Banner via an address validation tool from the vendor SmartyStreets. Addresses in Banner also used through ISSS are validated/re-formatted via an application programming interface from SmartyStreets, greatly reducing rejects from SEVIS and resulting in a much more efficient process for OISS.

Potentially, the biggest functional improvement is the ability to scrape and return data from the government systems. This eliminates manually completing hundreds of records each year, allows OISS to analyze data previously not available in the old system, and maintains more accurate records than ever before. A real time connection to the government system allows OISS to make changes there that automatically save to the ISSS system, reducing case processing time.  

The implementation of the new ISSS program has two phases – first focusing on the student module and then the scholar module. The first phase, now complete, resulted in providing students on-line access for requests and reporting requirements, eliminating multiple PDF forms and Qualtrics surveys. The project involved collaboration between multiple teams, including Procurement, Information Security Office, Student and Academic Support Systems, and Identity & Access Management. OISS also played a major part - through learning, testing, and configuring the new system. Thank you to everyone for keeping the project on schedule!

The second phase, covering the scholar module, will enable departments to initiate the visa document process for international scholars, such as postdocs, visiting faculty, etc. We are hoping to on-board all department users by the end of the calendar year. Look for more information on this phase of the project and possible future integrations with WorkDay.