International Student Working Group (ISWG)

Being an International Student

International students have unique difficulties in addition to the usual graduate school challenges. International students are expected to perform as well as other graduate students while simultaneously navigating sociopolitical and cultural barriers. 

Graduate students from the United States may also have intangible advantages, such as a pre-existing local network of support including friends and family. In addition, international students can face discrimination or harassment because of their religion, ethnicity, country of origin, or language abilities.

International Labor Concerns

  • Financial disadvantages of travel home expenses
  • Financial disadvantages of regular SEVIS and VISA renewal fees
  • Financial disadvantages during and after time of study including
    • OPT application fees
  • More insecurity about traveling home due to ambiguous terms on breaks and time off
  • Fears of threatened VISA and immigration status, especially due to ambiguous grievance procedures
  • Time commitment to navigate complicated and poorly documented processes of the immigration process pertaining to 
    • Maintaining a valid status
    • Times and deadlines for I20 applications, VISA renewals, and other processes relating to being an immigrant
  • Future insecurity due to OPT process and H1B sponsorship

How can TRU work with international students?

A graduate workers’ union is a way to address these issues and make changes as a group.  A union provides a collective platform to gather, discuss, and support common concerns of international students and to bargain with the school. Instead of each graduate student having to ask for something from their adviser or department chair, it can be easier to ask for things as a group, especially when many international students can face similar difficulties. While 37% of PhD students in JHU are international students (as of 2018), the voice of international students has been underrepresented. Supporting and joining TRU empowers us to stand up against unjust treatments and improve working conditions.

  • One of the key points of TRU’s campaign is to highlight concerns that disproportionately affect international students and collectively amplify these voices.
  • We want to work with and respond to these unique concerns in building a campaign that encompasses university wide issues.

Can international students join a union?

Yes! Absolutely! The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an agency of the Federal government of the United States, approves that immigrant employees “have the same rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).” It is illegal for the school or advisor to threaten you by using your immigration status if you try to join a union. We recognize that international students might feel anxious about joining a union, because precarious immigrant status means visas are solely dependent on maintaining student status at JHU. However, organizing a union is completely legal, does not break immigration law, and TRU is led with international students at the helm who ensure the campaign is inclusive and legal. Even so, we recognize international students have to make a difficult decision whether to remain silent to injustices which can include discrimination, exploitation, or harassment; the fear of a manager or advisor threatening your visa status in retaliation for unionizing. This is incredibly illegal and will be investigated, report this with us to the NLRB and OIE. There are dozens of international students who have joined TRU, and are committed to making sure unionizing is safe and your rights are protected on campus.

We also recognize that not everyone will want to be a public supporter of TRU, but shares our goals and desire to strengthen Hopkins and its international student community. Signing a card supporting a union election or even voting in a union election is completely anonymous. You can join, organize, and vote all completely anonymously. Moreover, TRU does not release the identities of our supporters without their consent to being a public supporter.

How can I support TRU?

We welcome all PhD workers at Hopkins, and you can choose to participate in and support TRU to whatever extend you feel comfortable. You can anonymously sign a union card when we go public and drop cards, and anonymously vote yes in a union election. You can talk with our organizers, or become one yourself, and make sure the unique experiences of being an international student and worker are in a labor contract with the University. TRU respects and seeks to represent the issues and concerns of international students regardless of their desire or ability to participate in the union. You can contact an organizer to learn more, join our mailing list and attend events, or sign up to be an organizer in your department.