International Students’ Working Group

GWC-UAW has an active community dedicated to international students’ issues. The working group has held workshops on visa and immigration issues with an immigration lawyer and a taxes q&a with certified public accounts. We stood behind Longxi Zhao, a Chemical Engineering PhD Student, who was fired as a TA without any due process and was left with no choice but to return home. We also campaigned to address the fact that many federal grants are available to U.S. citizens only, making it harder for international students to find research support. Our successful petition to Dean Carlos Alonso created fifteen $3000 fellowships for international students in the humanities and social sciences annually.

We continue to work on the issues that matter to us most; including the recent rule changes to the OPT STEM extension, international student fees, concerns over our taxes (2014 Tax Returns and IRS bills)and the ban on people from Muslim countries entering the country.

As a recognized union, GWC-UAW would be able to address international student employees’ concerns about workplace rights through collective bargaining and a binding contract.

To get involved, contact the group directly at gwcinternational@gmail.com. We meet every Monday 6-7pm in Brownies Cafe (basement of Avery Hall), on the Morningside campus.

  • Rally Against Muslim Ban Executive Order

The UAW and International Academic Workers

International graduate and postgraduate academic workers have made significant gains in pay, benefits, rights and protections through UAW representation.

Combating discriminatory international student fees

Universities across the country charge international students extra fees simply because they are not U.S. citizens. Based on fee waiver language won in their union contract through UAW Local 4121, international graduate workers at the University of Washington prevented the imposition of such fees on those who work as graduate assistants and have mobilized its broader membership to fight to eliminate such fees for ALL international students on campus. GEO-UAW graduate assistants at the University of Massachusetts Amherst also successfully used their union grievance procedure to stop international student fees, arguing that they violated their contract’s nondiscrimination clause. An arbitrator ruled that the fee was discriminatory and ordered the university to refund all students who had paid the fee.

A University of Washington TA discusses how the Union has provided a stronger voice for international graduate employees against discriminatory fees.

Establishing Expedited Grievance procedures for Unjust Termination

Postdoctoral researchers at UMass Amherst in UAW-Local 2322 negotiated an expedited arbitration process so that an international postdoc who believes they were terminated unjustly can have due process without the threat of deportation. Graduate assistants at UConn negotiated similar language as well through GEU-UAW Local 6950.

Expanding opportunities for undocumented workers

Graduate workers at the University of California, UAW-Local 2865, made historic gains when they negotiated equal opportunity rights for undocumented graduate workers into their latest contract. As a result, the union and university are working out the details of a system where DACA students can have equal opportunities for academic and professional development, such as playing the role of a teaching assistant or graduate student instructor.  Graduate worker activists in UAW Local 4121 at UW and in UAW Local 2865 at UC have also used the power of the union to play key roles in passing the state DREAM Acts in those states.

Creating more funding opportunities

At Columbia University, international graduate workers from GWC-UAW, the graduate union for teaching and research assistants on campus, launched a petition to address the lack of summer research funding opportunities available to non-U.S. citizens. As a result of the petition, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) endowed 15 fellowships of $3000 specifically to address this problem.

Providing resources for international student issues

Recognizing the lack of resources for international students at Columbia University the Graduate Workers of Columbia have held a series of workshops and forums to address these needs. Events were held with an immigration lawyer on visa and immigration issues, and a taxes q&a with certified public accountants. Both events were held on the Morningside and medical campuses, and endorsed by the CUMC Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), International Students Organization (ISO – medical campus), Graduate Association of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (GALAIC), Latin American History Student Association, Mexican Society of Columbia University (MEXCU), and Taiwanese Americans Students Association.

Advocating for continued access to the OPT STEM extension

When the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received a court order to stop post-completion 17-month Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) OPT extensions by February 2016, because the agency had not followed the proper procedures when they began the extension an informational session was held at Columbia University.  The Graduate Workers of Columbia hosted the event and was co-sponsored by the Taiwanese Graduate Student Association and Indian Graduate Student Association, to immediately address the concerns of international students.

USCIS has introduced new rules to the OPT STEM extension program and the UAW worked with international student workers to publicly comment on the changes.

International Academic Workers Build Political Power Through the UAW

As part of a powerful national political action program, which international academic workers have helped shape, the UAW has pursued a number of progressive resolutions on immigration and international worker issues. Below are excerpts from these resolutions.  You can read the most recent UAW positions on immigration here.

  • International academic workers, who contribute enormously to the intellectual and cultural environment of educational institutions around the country, are routinely exploited in the workplace. They often receive low pay and few benefits. In addition, since Sept. 11, 2001, they have been the target of misguided, discriminatory policies that impose severe burdens. The recent wave of organizing in higher education, led in part by international academic workers, has led to improvements. But more needs to be done.”
  • The UAW supports comprehensive immigration reform, which would “Increase the flexibility and length of work opportunities for international academic workers employed by U.S. universities and for their families. Visa processing should be streamlined, and the transition to permanent residency and citizenship should be expedited. This will enhance the intellectual and cultural environment at our universities, while helping to ensure that international academic workers have equitable compensation and equal workplace rights.”
  • The resolutions included this call to action: “Tell Congress to provide increased protections for the rights of international academic workers, including their civil rights and liberties. Congress should oppose any measures that would discriminate against or impose burdens on them. International academic workers should receive adequate, equal compensation and have the opportunity to become permanent residents and citizens.”
  • No limits on employment-based green cards for foreign students who graduate from American universities with advanced degrees in scientific and technical fields, along with other measures to liberalize visas for foreign students. These changes will benefit many UAW members employed as teaching and research assistants at colleges and universities.

When we act collectively we have power, not only in our workplaces, but also in our political voice.