15 Mar 2016

A welcome system for international staff

Welcome-academicsMost higher education institutions in Europe have established welcome procedures for international students, but such procedures are not as common when it comes to international staff and researchers. The ‘Welcome Office’ at University of Trento in Italy made it its mission to provide researchers and visiting scholars with the same kind of support that students might receive – tending to their specific needs. Working in collaboration with the university’s student services and local stakeholders, the office – which falls under the HR department – bridges the information gap between international staff and their host university.

 
The welcome office mainly deals with two categories of visitors: non-European researchers and Visiting Professors. Non-European researchers are supported in their visa requests and residence permit applications along with other administrative procedures necessary for their regular stay in Italy. For Visiting Professors, the Welcome Office supports them in the administrative procedures related to their stay in Italy, such as the stipulation of an employment contract, visa requests, stay permit applications, the booking of flight tickets and accommodation, as well as information about taxation, health insurance and payment procedures.

A central mission

One of the central missions for all institutions dealing with internationalisation is to ensure the best possible welcome to people coming in from abroad. This goal is ambitious and meeting it should not be taken for granted. Communicating effectively and promoting information sharing between the university and external institutions are keys to success. In this blog post, I hope to trigger reflection that goes beyond the merely administrative aspects concerning the incorporation of experts coming in from abroad.

 
For instance, although the law explains the formalities to be met in order to request an entry visa or a residence permit, it is our job to become the central point of contact that works to make these procedures less demanding and more efficient for our international guests. In our experience, it is essential to create an excellent network involving all the local administrative offices, especially those involved in residency permit procedures. For example, researchers frequently travel outside Italy for work purposes. In the case of non-European citizens, we have to make sure that they do not face any bureaucratic obstacles. The University of Trento has put great effort into raising awareness about these issues among local stakeholders – think here of Police Headquarters, the Public Health Office, the Registry office, the Tax Office, etc – in order to make the procedure more streamlined and flexible.

A pre-emptive approach

Our office deals with lecturers from all over the world. They stay in Trento only for short periods – up to six months – and the activities they carry out at the University of Trento sometimes represents only one part of their international commitments. Consequently, it is essential to identify and implement excellent, timely procedures in order to complete administrative processes according to guests’ needs, especially when an Italian entry visa is needed. We try to answer any questions as fast as possible by making both the ‘bureaucratic language’ and issues clearer. We are available to meet guests during all working hours, rather than having fixed office hours for them. Moreover, we inform local offices in advance if there is an application that could differ from the norm so that they are ready to deal with it when professors submit their papers.

 
Our system works because we give extreme importance to creating synergies between our University and local stakeholders, as well as the creation of good relationships with diplomatic representatives. This network of support has made it easier to solve unpredictable problems our guests might incur rapidly and efficiently.

 
Lara is Administrative Officer and Donatella is Head at Welcome Office for Teaching and Administrative Staff at University of Trento, Italy.