Considerations for International Students

We recognize that forming a graduate student union may have some implications unique to international graduate students. Here's an FAQ that can speak to some of these issues. There's also a resolution to address the inequitable treatment of international graduate student workers from the Coalition of Graduate Union Employees.

We'd like to point out that graduate student unions typically emphasize some issues that are of special importance to international students. Guaranteed summer funding for international students with single entrance visas is a huge issue that always comes up, as is adequate vacation time for international students to visit their home countries. Help with navigating tax-related issues, and summer language training are also issues that graduate student unions have the potential to address. We'd love to hear about further concerns, so please don't hesitate to contact us at


Takeaway from our Panel for International Students

What is the likelihood that the existence of a union for graduate assistants at Tufts will be used to deny me a visa or entry into the country?

It’s extremely unlikely. We are aware that, particularly with the election of Trump, many international students are experiencing an increased level of worry and uncertainty. Here is a basic explanation of why our panel concluded that forming a union will not likely adversely impact visa applications or entry.

It hasn’t happened, according to our research. Unions for graduate assistants have existed for 30 years, and there is no reported instance of a student being denied a visa because of union activity. Our panelist, immigration attorney Stefanie Fisher, reached out to a network of thousands of immigration attorneys across the country and no one could identify a single anecdotal example of this sort of discrimination taking place. And, for what it’s worth, Stefanie is not an employee of SEIU.

Will forming a union change my visa status?

No. The August 2016 ruling of the federal labor agency, the National Labor Relations Board, that gave us the right to form a union recognizes us as students who also are “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act. This decision does not change our status as “students” under other laws, such as immigration. It does not impact our visas or our tax statuses. For 30 years, students who formed and joined unions at public universities and colleges were classified as employees under state laws and kept their status as “students” under F1 visas. We have no reason to believe your status and protection as “students” will change as a result of the ruling that extends rights to students at private institutions.

Being represented by a union does not impact immigration status or vice versa. Immigration status does not impact the right to be represented by a union. In the US, even undocumented immigrants have the same right as full citizens to form a union or be free from unlawful retaliation by an employer.

Is the union aware of the vulnerable situation that international graduate students are in, especially after the recent election of President Trump? Will the union advocate for the interests of international graduate students?

Yes. In talking with many international students over the course of our organizing drive, including some active in the drive, we have learned about the unique challenges faced by our international colleagues. These conversations have clarified the need to advocate for benefits such as guaranteed leave and summer funding opportunities when we bargain our first contract.

Our union, SEIU, has experience representing members with a wide range of immigration statuses, and helping them achieve meaningful improvements across different industries—but we, as members, will decide what we want to see changed at Tufts.

More broadly, SEIU recently submitted an amicus brief in support of the injunction against President Trump’s Executive Order regarding immigration Trump’s illegal travel ban. This is one example of policy-level advocacy done by our union in direct response to the policies of the new Administration.

What can be gained in a contract for international graduate assistants?

In addition to better pay, benefits, and due process that has been won for all graduate assistants with collective bargaining, here are some examples that may be especially relevant to international students:

  • Access to summer funding (Oregon State)
  • Paid leave for illness or injury of oneself or family (University of Washington, University of California, New York University)
  • Paid leave for pregnancy or birth (University of California, University of Connecticut, University of California)
  • One-on-one tutoring for English language learners (Yale University)
  • All-expenses-covered training for new international teaching assistants (University of Michigan)
  • Discounted access to immigration law services (University of Wisconsin)

A significant portion of graduate students at Tufts are international students, and we understand that there are some unique questions and concerns related to this matter. Please don't hesitate to email with any questions.

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