Protecting the Rights of International Researchers

International scholars have always faced challenges and precarity on account of our status as visa holders. In 2020, the federal government increased the pressure on visa-holders by issuing a number of short-sighted and xenophobic policies, from requiring international students to attend classes in person during the COVID-19 crisis or risk deportation, to restricting H1B visas, to the Muslim travel ban, to restrictions on Chinese international scholar visas, and more. These actions have created tremendous stress, concern and uncertainty for international researchers and our futures.

The precarious position international scholars face can also compound the many sources of stress we experience as postdoctoral researchers working at Princeton University, from Princeton’s high cost of living and lack of affordable housing, to insufficient family-friendly benefits, and can leave many of us without options when faced with unfair termination, unreasonable work expectations, or harassment.

By forming a union, international researchers can negotiate for additional protections. Through their contracts, for example, UC Postdocs have won increased rights for international postdocs by ending UC’s practice of denying health benefits for many international postdocs and ensuring equal treatment regardless of immigration status.

In addition to new rights and economic improvements that often uniquely benefit international workers, Columbia University Postdocs also won increased job stability by guaranteeing that appointments must be held open for at least 60 days if work authorization is delayed, paid time off for immigration-related proceedings, greater ability to work remotely if unable to return to the US, and enforceable protections against discrimination and harassment.

The UAW has also been a critical resource and provided a political voice for international students and scholars to affect national policy. UAW Academic Workers have used their collective strength to:

In October of 2020, UAW Academic Workers mobilized against a proposed rule by ICE to shorten visa stays for international scholars; thousands of public comments were submitted, including by the President of the UAW International. In July of 2020, thanks to the direct action by UAW Academic Workers across the country, in addition to efforts by our university and government allies, ICE backed down from its directive to deport international students taking online classes due to COVID-19. In 2017, the UAW International filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case challenging the Trump administration’s travel ban.

UAW 2865 and UAW 5810 members protest outside of ICE offices in San Francisco, summer 2020 

UAW Local 2865 and UAW 5810 union members with Congresswoman Judy Chu discussing her Dear Colleague Letter in support of Chinese international students at her office in Pasadena, 2018.

Nationally, the UAW represents more than 100,000 workers in higher education, a powerful force for effective lobbying. Working with members of Congress, UAW academic workers helped win the Optional Practical Training STEM extension. UAW Locals 5810, 2865 and 4121 representing Postdocs and Student Workers in Washington and California also worked with Congressional Representatives Judy Chu and Pramila Jayapal on a Dear Colleague letter demanding that Secretary of State Pompeo restore the validity period of Chinese international students’ entry visas from 12 months back to 60 months.