We are international students and we are voting yes on the GSU
International student voices should matter
International students are a vital part of the MIT graduate student community. We are also among the thousands of members and hundreds of organizers of the MIT Graduate Student Union (GSU). The reason we are involved is quite simple — like all of our colleagues, international or not, our voices should matter. As international students, we face many roadblocks to advancing our graduate program that we seek to address through unionization. We are voting yes on the GSU because we deserve:
adequate resources and support;
protections when we are confronted with visa issues or travel restrictions; and
equal opportunity and fair policies — for example, around Curricular Practical Training (CPT) to advance our research, professional development during our program, and Optional Practical Training for post-graduate jobs and a stable future.
MIT has imposed significant burdens on international students in obtaining CPT approval. CPT is a federal policy that allows international students on F-1 visas to participate in professional development activities, including internships. Many departments have additional restrictions on CPT approval beyond federal requirements, while some departments approve no CPT at all. Formal policy or not, this is the reality we face. Compared to our domestic coworkers, international students are denied equal opportunities for career advancement and are disadvantaged in our future job markets. We deserve equality and fairness regardless of our nationality. With a union, we will fight for a more inclusive MIT that enables everyone to thrive.
Our campaign is one based in unity, hope, empowerment, and urgency. It is based on an undeniable belief that we are stronger when we are acting together rather than alone. We are voting yes because we want MIT to realize its full potential as a cutting-edge research institution where all graduate students can thrive.
In one of MIT’s recent, bizarre emails about our campaign, the administration struck a different tone — one of negativity, futility, and fear. Among the statements they made, they implied that international students with spouses and families face additional financial burdens in their graduate programs at MIT. We agree. However, MIT oddly used this as part of their argument against unionization in a recent email. They imply that international students on fellowship will be restricted by unionization and as a result would not be able to take on second jobs to support themselves. While the statement itself is highly misleading, it also raises a deeper question: why do international fellows need to take on second jobs? Surely, MIT can take concrete steps to address these issues we face as international students. Unfortunately, many of their recent policies have done the opposite.
It was just three years ago when MIT displaced hundreds of international students and their families from the Eastgate Apartments into Site 4, with skyrocketing rents. Many of our international colleagues with families now spend upwards of 70% of their stipend on rent.
It was just two years ago, in the middle of a global pandemic, when MIT announced that international students abroad must return to the U.S. by January 2020 or they would risk losing their appointment. Many of us were directly affected by this policy as our entire futures suddenly went into flux.
This is not the way it has to be. We have joined the GSU and will be voting yes on unionization in the upcoming election because we want to make MIT the world-class research institution we know it can be. But in order to do that, we have to make meaningful changes to remove the obstacles that prevent us from being the best researchers we can be. As international students, we are fighting for equal opportunity and adequate support. We can start to make these changes if we come together with our coworkers and win our union. Not every graduate student at MIT is international. But whether it comes in the form of dental coverage, affordable housing, financial security, or meaningful Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies, all graduate students know that positive change can and must be made to improve MIT and improve the quality of our lives.
As international students, regardless of our national origin or visa status, we have the same rights as U.S. citizens to participate in union activities, including voting yes for our union in the upcoming election. Retaliation against protected union activity, including threats toward our visa status, is illegal. It is also illegal for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to even ask someone about their union participation. In the 50 years that graduate student unions have existed in the U.S., there have been no documented cases of international students facing visa issues due to union support.
We are international students and we are voting yes on the GSU because our voices should matter. Join us by signing the vote yes petition today!
Kai Jia is a third-year graduate student-worker in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Timothy Loh is a graduate student-worker in Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences