International Scholars Working Group


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On February 1, 2017, HGSU-UAW international student workers came together to form the International Scholars Working Group. This meeting was motivated by recent anti-immigrant Executive Orders signed by President Trump, one of which banned people from certain Muslim-majority countries from the United States.

At the first meeting, it was decided that regular meetings would be necessary to combat actions taken against our international university community.

Currently, the working group is tasked with the following:

  • List of Demands. It is clear that universities across the country have found and implemented concrete actions to support their international students. We are inspired by Harvard University’s public statements and actions in support of a diverse and inclusive community and against the Muslim ban, and we have compiled a list of demands to help the university rise to the level of its rhetoric in its practical support of its community members.
  • Legal Rights and Resources. Volunteers from the working group are compiling lists of concerns and bringing together experts and other resources to meet these needs.
  • Support Networks. The significant uncertainty and practical impact of the Executive Orders, as well as the emotional trauma that international students face, can be very difficult to handle alone. Advocating for access to counseling, building solidarity networks, and hosting support events can help meet these challenges.
  • Outreach and Building Solidarity. To create real, sustainable change, organizations must join together to craft and successfully advocate for a better university for all members. The working group is reaching out to all potential allies to understand the far-reaching effects of the anti-immigrant Executive Orders and to more fully meet the needs of the broader university community.
Weekly Working Group Planning Meetings

Each Wednesday, at 6:00 PM ET, the committee meets to discuss progress on these initiatives, as well as new issues which may have arisen. All who wish to become more involved are welcome to contribute.

Past Events

May 1st Rally for Sanctuary

On May 1st, International Workers’ Day, we stood together with various undergraduate and graduate student groups, faculty members, members from other on-campus unions and community supporters to call for clear commitments from the Harvard administration to protect marginalized members of our community. Strong connections within and outside the Harvard community are more important than ever. This semester, the ISWG has made concerted efforts to understand the often overlapping yet still distinct concerns of different marginalized groups on campus so that we can stand in solidarity with and support all members of our community. You can find speeches from the rally here, and photos here. Thank you all for coming out in support!

Conversation with Tony Chung - April 19, 2017

HGSU co-hosted a conversation for Tony Chung, one of five Asian-American male models working internationally, represented by Ford Models. He discussed his trajectory and how he’s cultivated a sense of belonging in the very different spaces of being an Asian-American musician in Asia and now as a high-fashion model gracing the front pages of Club Monaco and Brooks Brothers catalogs.

Massachusetts Defies the Fugitive Slave Law - April 11, 2017

HGSU joined with other organizations at Harvard and in our community to provide a teach-in surrounding Boston’s role in protecting its residents in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law. What parallels might be drawn with our community’s potential to protect our own, given a long U.S. history of racism, oppression, xenophobia and heightened immigration enforcement? We led with a lecture by historian Prof. Stephen Kantrowitzfollowed by a discussion with Dr. Robert P. Marlin of Harvard Medical School and the Cambridge Health Alliance who works with immigrants and refugees.

Cybersecurity Workshops - March 9, 27 and March 31, 2017

Trump’s announcement that border officers would be given the power to vet foreigners’ social media profiles did not just affect travelers who are either from or were born in the Muslim majority countries affected by the ban, but also other foreign nationals and US citizens, particularly those who work or have family in at-risk countries. To respond to this, the HGSU International Scholars Working Group organized a bring-your-own-laptop, hands-on cybersecurity workshop, held by the the Massachusetts Pirate Party ( Attendees learned how to prepare for the eventuality of being asked to surrender your laptop/smartphone/passwords at the border and how to express political opinions freely and use the internet for activism without compromising security at the border.

Challenging Islamophobia Teach-In - March 23, 2017

HGSU-UAW hosted a teach-in led by Anwar Omeish of the Anti-Islamophobia Network. Anwar conducted a presentation on the history of Islamophobia in the U.S. and current issues facing Muslim communities. We’ conclude with time for discussion.

Stop the Leaky Pipeline, Harvard! - Apr 1, 2016

Across graduate schools and departments at Harvard University, women, underrepresented minorities, LGBTQ individuals, international students, students with disabilities, and students from working-class backgrounds face a series of unique challenges in the workplace. These challenges include isolation, hostile work environments, a lack of faculty mentors, and inadequate support services for our diverse needs. They influence our ability to thrive as graduate workers and ultimately lead to differential attrition rates for underrepresented groups, otherwise known as the leaky pipeline. The University’s current policies in admissions, hiring, and graduate support have not been enough to address this crisis. Harvard University has a leaky pipeline problem, and an obligation to end it. The Harvard Graduate Student Union’s Civil Rights Committee is bringing together activists from across the Harvard community. On April 1st, we will join together to tell Harvard to stop the leaky pipeline.

Visa and Immigration Seminar - Mar 24, 2016

On March 24, HGSU-UAW welcomed Christine Brigagliano, a partner at Van Der Hout, Brigagliano, and Nightingale, LLP, a renowned firm specializing in immigration and nationality law. She spoke to international students about the issues they face while enrolled in school and what to expect after graduation.

STEM Funding Petition Forum - Feb 24, 2016

HGSU-UAW has joined GWC-UAW Local 2110 in a petition to Revitalize Federal Support for STEM Research. Grad workers from the Longwood campus met to discuss current problems with federal STEM funding and how grad unions can advocate for increased and more stable STEM funding. Jessica Polka, Future of Research, David Peeler, U. Washington, and  Ameya Akkalkotkar, U. Conn, joined Neuroscience grad worker Selmaan Chettih and BBS grad workers Avery Davis and Chamith Fonseka as panelists for the discussion.

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

A University of Washington TA discusses how the Union has provided a stronger voice for international graduate employees against discriminatory 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 non-discrimination clause. An arbitrator ruled that the fee was discriminatory and ordered the university to refund all students who had paid the fee.

Establishing expedited grievance procedures for unjust termination

Post-doctoral researchers at UMass Amherst in UAW-Local 2322 negotiated an expedited arbitration process so that an international post-doctoral scholar who believed they were terminated unjustly could 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, including roles such as 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 and played key roles in the passage of state-level DREAM Acts.

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 $3,000.

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 with certified public accountants for a taxes Q&A. Both events were held on the Morningside and medical campuses, and endorsed by the CUMC Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA),Graduate Association of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (GALAIC), International Students Organization (ISO – medical campus), 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

A University of Washington RA discusses how the Union has provided a stronger voice for international graduate employees to fight for OPT extensions.

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.The Graduate Workers of Columbia hosted an informational session, which 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 the national debates and federal actions that affect us.


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