International Solidarity

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Who We Are

We are UAW Local 4121 members concerned with matters affecting international student/scholar members of our union. Our union is comprised of more than 1,000 international students/scholars from virtually every country in the world. We draw from the rich experiences and deep expertise of these international students/scholars and from researchers working on global issues to accomplish the following objectives:

  1. Understand the challenges faced by international ASEs/Postdocs at the UW, and address them in the context of our collective bargaining agreement.
  2. Advocate for the equal right of international ASEs/Postdocs to access resources needed to fulfill their academic and professional goals.
  3. Develop strategies to connect with and support larger global movements social justice movements.
  4. Read more about our working group in our member stories.

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Get Involved

If you would like to get more involved in the workgroup or just want to get regular updates, please write to intl-workgroup(at)uaw4121(dot)org with a non-UW email address to be added to the listserv. During Summer 2020, workgroup meetings are held weekly on Mondays at 11am via Zoom. Upcoming meeting dates will posted on the UAW 4121 calendar. New members are most welcome!

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Get Support

If you are an international ASE/Postdoc at the UW and have any questions or concerns, please send an email to intl-workgroup(at)uaw4121(dot)org.

A list of resources for immigrant and undocumented folks can be found here.

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UW Guidelines for Incoming International ASEs Abroad

On Sept. 11, 2020, after consistent organizing led by our International Solidarity Workgroup, the university sent out formal guidance to departments about non-US citizen ASEs conducting work from their home countries (without a visa). This formal guidance confirms that non-US citizen ASEs can conduct work and receive payment while abroad. This information should be shared with non-US citizen ASEs by their departments. In order to ensure this information is received by ASEs as soon as possible, links to the guidance can also be found below:

Email from Graduate School to Departments about remote work

Paying Work Abroad International Students

If you get conflicting information from other sources (e.g., your advisor), please document as many details as possible about the information you receive and contact the International Solidarity Workgroup for support at intl-workgroup(at)uaw4121(dot)org.

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Updates for International Scholars for Spring 2021

The Graduate School has released its policy for ASEs working from abroad during the spring quarter.  We learned through this policy that the Graduate School has started requiring ASEs working abroad to sign a new Declaration stating that an ASE must commit to a date to return to Seattle and that failure to do so constitutes termination of employment.  It also requires the ASE to assume blanket liability for tax, legal and financial consequences of working abroad.  We have filed a grievance asserting that this requirement violates the non-discrimination protections in our CBA, as clearly the disproportionate impact of this requirement falls on non citizens (not simply people working outside of Seattle).  We also demanded that the University Cease and Desist this requirement immediately and meet with us to resolve the grievance and make whole any losses people may have experienced.


If you have received this Declaration and are being asked to sign it please reach out to intl-workgroup(at)uaw4121(dot)org immediately.  Also contact us if you’d like to help roll back this discriminatory policy and move the University to develop solutions that don’t undercut our basic contractual rights.


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Information on the Department of Homeland Security’s Proposed Rule to Replace Duration of Status

These Frequently Asked Questions do not offer legal advice.

Watch our recorded info session with Stacey Gartland from Van Der Hout LLP here

Read more about UAW 4121’s efforts here: “UAW 4121 stands up against new Trump ruling that limits the visas of international students and scholars” (The Daily, November 24, 2020)

When will this rule go into effect? 

The proposed rule by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is currently not in effect. When the government publishes a proposed rule they provide a period of time for affected bodies to comment on the rule. You can leave a comment on the proposed rule here. Comments are due by October 26, 2020. 

DHS is obligated to read and consider each comment. After, they can scrap the proposed rule, issue a modified rule, or they can start over. Your comments can make a difference! 

Who does this proposed rule affect and how?

The proposed rule would impact F, J, and I visa holders and how their I-94s would be implemented. F and J visa holders are currently admitted to the United States for the Duration of Status, allowing them to stay in the country as long as they are continuing to pursue their program. Under the proposed rule, a I-94 would have a fixed expiration date, determining how long they can stay in the United States. If their program end date is after the expiration date or they transfer to a different school or program, they will have to apply for extension of stay inside the United States or leave and enter the country.

How is the expiration date on my I-94 determined? How will I know when it is?

When an international student/scholar enters the United States, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer issues a I-94, an electronic document that can be viewed on the CBP website. CBP officers will have some discretion on the expiration date. The proposed rules are maximum dates. 

Durations proposed in the rule include:

  • Program end date on your I-20 or DS 2019, or a 4 year period whichever one is earlier.
  • 2 years for inviduals who were born in or are citizens of countries on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List. Currently: North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.
  • 2 years for individuals from countries with greater than 10% overstay rate. Citizens of countries with a student and exchange visitor total overstay rate of greater than 10% according to the most recent DHS Entry/Exit Overstay report (See Table 4, Column 6). Remember this may change as it gets updated.
  • 2 years if an individual is enrolled in courses that are of national interest, such as nuclear science. 
  • 2 years if an individual’s school is not participating in E-Verify.

What is the process for renewing an I-94?

Individuals inside of the United States when the rule becomes final will automatically have their Duration of Status converted to 4 years from the date the rule goes into effect or their program end date, whichever is earlier. If anything changes afterwards, the individual will have to apply for an extension. 

To renew their I-94, an individual can leave the country or apply for extension of status with the USCIS. When an individual leaves the United States, their I-94 will be void, and when they return, they will be given a new I-94 with a new expiration date. 

An individual can apply for an extension of status (Form I-539) with the USCIS up to 6 months and at least one day before the expiration date. As long as they have applied before their I-94 expiration date, they are allowed to stay in the United Status and continue their program while their application is being processed. Individuals are encouraged to apply as early as possible to avoid a lapse in work authorization. While F-1 visa holders will be given a 180 day extension of work authorization—240 days for J visa holders—the current processing time is 6 to 10 months. 

Individuals will have to explain and provide documentation as part of their extension of status application. Reasons can include a compelling academic reason, serious medical condition or illness, or circumstances beyond a student’s control (i.e.: natural disaster or school closure).

The extension of status application will require filing a form with a filing fee, sent by mail to USCIS. The current fees are $370 plus a $85 biometric fee. The fees were set to be increased on October 2 but there has been an injunction to the increase due to an online lawsuit challenging the fee increase. 

The extension of status form is currently Form I-539, however, this may change. Spouses and children accompanying on F-2 and J-2 visas will have to follow the same processes.

How does this rule affect OPT and STEM OPT?

This proposed rule will shift the Optional Practical Training (OPT) application period earlier by 30 days. Currently individuals can apply up to 90 days before their program end date and up to 60 days after. The proposed rule would change the application period to 120 days before their program end date and up to 30 days after. The current grace period will change from 60 days to the proposed 30 days.

An individual’s I-94 will expire on their program end date. An I-94’s expiration date will include the 30-day grace period. Individuals will have to apply for an extension of stay and follow a three-step process for their OPT: go to their designated school official (DSO) for recommendation, update their I-20, and file Form I-765 for employment authorization. 

When an individual is switching from OPT to STEM OPT the three-step process would be: go to their DSO to get an updated I-20 for STEM OPT extension, apply for an extension of stay, and then apply for employment authorization. Work authorization extends for 120 days during the application.

</a id>Who else is opposing this rule?

In addition to thousands of comments submitted by individual UAW members and others, the following letters were submitted to DHS:

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What We Do

Past and current activities of the International Solidarity workgroup:

  • Fighting the Arbitrary “Duration of Status” Rule Proposal from the Trump Department of Homeland Security, designed to discourage international students from studying and working in the U.S.
  • Working to ensure that all UW Postdocs have access to health care, including paid directs, who are overwhelmingly non-citizens:
  • Taking on ICE & Winning: Defeating the directive to deport workers on M1 and F1 visas during remote instruction (July 2020):
  • Defending the Rights of Visa Holders and Non-Citizens to Share in State and Federal Recovery Efforts (June 2020)
    • We have reached out to Governor Jay Inslee in support of the creation of a Washington Workers Fund for non-citizen populations who are facing financial hardship and are prevented from receiving state or federal assistance due to their visa or immigration status. We have also reached out to Seattle City Council urging them to pass a tax on big business to support working people, including direct aid to non-citizens whose immigration status prevents them from being eligible for federal or state support
  • Resisting Trump’s potential limitations on non-immigrant visas (June 2020):
    • Actions being contemplated by the Trump Admin have the potential to jeopardize the careers of of Academic Student Employees working on F1 visas, and Postdocs working on F1-OPT extensions or H1B visas. As a Local Union, we sent a letter strongly opposing these measures to the U.S. Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Labor, as well as to our Washington State Congressional delegation. Our Working Group has additionally urged UW President Ana Mari Cauce to join these critical efforts by sending similar letters as a University administration. All ASEs and Postdocs are encouraged to send a message to Washington state Senators using this short form.
  • Resisting Trump’s Travel Ban Executive Orders (January 2017):
    • Upon issuance of the Executive Orders banning travel for immigrants from 7 (now 6) named countries, UAW members and the International Solidarity Work Group have taken swift action and acted as part of a broad coalition who was successful at halting Trump’s administration.  Go to our Taking Action for Immigration and Undocumented Rights page for a listing of actions taken.

Click here to read more about past and current activities.

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Yes! Academic worker unions have been formed by and are led by international students/scholars, who have been actively involved in union leadership, committees, work groups and other decision-making bodies. Our Local Union (UAW 4121) workforce is comprised of approximately 30-40% international students/scholars, and as such, the issues we face comprise many of our core demands: equity, anti-discrimination, job stability, adequate health care, and more. International students/scholars have regularly taken the lead in union advocacy, including contract bargaining, policy advocacy, and also direct action on issues that affect us (see for example our successful campaigns to counter the effects of the Trump Travel Ban, to strengthen protections against discrimination and harassment, to extend STEM OPT funding, and more). This is in addition to work we have done through our union to fight for rights of all immigrants and undocumented folks (see other examples on this page).
Only individuals who are eligible to register to vote in the U.S. are eligible to contribute financially to this program. However international students/scholars may (and often do) get involved in other aspects of the political process.
No. We are not aware of a single international student/scholar ever having problems with visa status as a result of union membership or activity. International students/scholars have the same rights as US citizens to join and participate in the union. If you have specific concerns, please contact us.
Since international students/scholars have the same legal rights as U.S. citizens, your signing of a membership form should not jeopardize or delay your application for legal permanent residence. Union authorization cards that get submitted to PERC (the state Public Employment Relations Commission, who verifies and counts the cards) are confidential, and not released by PERC to the University of Washington or other government agencies. Moreover, thousands of Postdocs have signed union authorization cards in large unionization drives at the University of California and elsewhere since 2008, without any reported instance of delay or rejection of applications as a result of signing a card or otherwise participating in the unionization effort. If you have any questions about your particular situation, please send an email to for additional resources.
Since international students/scholars rely on the University for sponsorship of their visa, and cannot work for any other employer while studying and working in the U.S., we can be more susceptible to unfair treatment. We also are impacted by government or university policies that limit our rights. You can read stories describing real-life situations at UW here: Our collective bargaining agreements and the solidarity of our union community create much stronger, legally binding rights and protections to help us address these issues.  Here are some examples:
  • Protection against arbitrary dismissal (the university can only discipline or dismiss you for “just cause” – a set of legally defined rights that include due process and protection against disparate treatment);
  • The right to appeal University decisions to third party arbitration (to create accountability and discourage discriminatory treatment);
  • The right to be represented and advised by a peer union member who is trained in enforcing the collective bargaining agreement (so that you don’t have to manage difficult situations alone or rely on the employer for guidance);
  • The right to demand transparency if your supervisor takes action against you (for example you can demand access to your PI’s budget information if you’re told that your funding will be cut);
  • Due process rights specific to visa holders in the case of termination (to ensure that your due process rights will be upheld even if your visa requires you to travel during a disciplinary proceeding);
  • Minimum appointment lengths (generally one year for both ASEs and Postdocs);
  • Greater stability and transparency in health care benefits – as well as a network of peers and work groups who can help guide and interpret health insurance plans for people from outside the U.S.;
Strong, well-organized networks (including our workgroup!) of academic workers throughout the University of Washington system, ready and willing to mobilize in solidarity actions.  You can see examples here and here.  Another good example of University of California union members mobilizing to protect one of their colleagues is here.
As a union comprised of so many international students/scholars, UAW is arguably one of the most important voices for our issues of any organization in the country. For years UAW has fought hard to ensure that the contributions of international and immigrant employees are elevated and that the terms and conditions of their employment are improved. Recently UAW helped lead the fight to ensure that the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program was expanded after a lawsuit that threatened to reduce it. And recently the UAW helped lead the fight against the Executive Orders issued by President Trump which targeted international students and scholars. The International Solidarity Group of UAW Local 4121 contributed to the successful lawsuit by filing declarations (February and March, 2017) with the Washington State Attorney General, which resulted in a Temporary Restraining Order, and recently the union facilitated the return of a member who had been unable to return to UW from overseas. The UAW and other unions recently filed Amicus Brief with the U.S. Supreme Court fighting the Trump Administration’s discriminatory Muslim ban. The UAW’s commitment to international students and scholars stems from the leadership of international students and scholars themselves.
The union represents all bargaining unit members under the collective bargaining agreement, and can also help navigate many aspects of issues surrounding wages, benefits, and working conditions at the University. We do not provide legal advice about individual visa questions, but can help you get in touch with an immigration attorney who is familiar with our working conditions and the context of higher education. At any point, don’t hesitate to contact us with questions and we can discuss options with you for getting support.
No law prohibits you from being paid without an SSN (Social Security Number). You are encouraged to obtain an SSN as soon as possible. Most international students and scholars in nonimmigrant status are eligible to be employed in the United States, and are therefore eligible to apply for an SSN if they are actually employed in the United States.
There are no U.S. immigration laws that would prohibit the university from employing anyone who is not physically in the U.S. The U.S. laws about employment authorization apply only when someone is inside the U.S. However, there may be laws in the employees' respective home countries that prohibit or restrict such employment. Please check with a licensed attorney for advice about each country on a case-by-case basis.
ICE guidance states that “You have 30 days to enter the country before your official program start date, as listed on your Form I-20. If you do not report to your school by your program start date, your DSO may terminate your SEVIS record. We suggest that you contact your school immediately once you enter the country so that there is no question of your arrival. If you cannot enter the United States for the term listed on your Form I-20, contact your school officials as soon as possible so that they can update your record so your plans are accurately reflected in SEVIS (emphasis added).” We advise that you stay in regular contact with your home department about your travel plans. Contact us at if you’re receiving unclear or incorrect information so that we can help you advocate.
The terms of our collective bargaining agreement apply equally to citizen and non-citizen ASEs, including eligibility for a tuition waiver (see this article for details). Contact us at if you’re receiving unclear or incorrect information so that we can help you advocate.
If you have previously been physically present and studying in the U.S. prior to March 9, 2020, then your DSO can continue their SEVIS record and you can enroll in online classes in the same way as someone in the U.S. If you are a new student who has never been issued an F-1 visa and has never entered the U.S., a DSO cannot issue an I-20 unless you can take a full course of study consisting of in-person classes. The University could allow you to enroll in online classes from your home country but this would be done outside of the I-20/SEVIS system.
No. Under our collective bargaining agreement health insurance is guaranteed for any graduate employee – including international graduate students – who hold appointments with 50% or greater FTE (Full-Time Equivalent). The Graduate Appointee Insurance Program (GAIP) is a $0 premium health insurance our union has bargained for eligible ASEs, meaning you do not have to pay monthly for this health insurance program. International students who are not eligible for employer-paid insurance like GAIP may also apply to waive the requirement to pay a fee for the UW International Student Health Insurance Plan (ISHIP). This is done by submitting a waiver request through the How to Apply to Waive ISHIP section of the ISHIP Waiver page. Waiver requests are due by the third Friday of each quarter, but students may submit a waiver request at any time after registering for quarterly classes.

Other questions? 

Please send an email to intl-workgroup(at)uaw4121(dot)org if you have any questions that weren’t covered above!

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