KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: International Student Workers

UPDATE: In case you missed, check out the latest from our International Student Legal Workshop.

As international graduate student assistants, we face unique challenges at Duke. We are invested in making Duke a better place to teach, and one where the innumerable challenges that our citizen colleagues do not face are better understood. Below, you’ll find a quick guide to help dispel any myths about international students’ right to organize. If you are an international student at Duke and support our campaign, you can add your name to our support letter and sign an authorization card.

The National Labor Relations Board recently restored the federally-protected rights of student employees at private universities to organize and form a labor union. Below are answers to frequently asked questions on how organizing and collective bargaining impacts student employees on non-immigrant visas.

  1. Can international student workers join a union?

Yes! All student employees, regardless of their immigration status, have the federally-protected rights to 1) engage in activity with their co-workers concerning their working conditions, 2) form a union, and 3) collectively bargain with their universities. It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against any student employees for exercising their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

  1. Do international students have the right to free speech in the U.S.?

Yes! International students have the same right to free speech as U.S. citizens. The U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment, applies to everyone within US borders, regardless of citizenship status.

  1. Will my union membership affect my student visa? Can it affect future visas?

No. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) cannot ask you questions about your union membership or participation in lawful union activity. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recognized the importance of enforcing labor laws and signed an agreement with the Department of Labor (DOL) that states it is essential to ensure proper wages and working conditions for all covered workers regardless of immigration status. It is your right to belong to a union and being a union member cannot affect your visa application.

  1. How can a union help me as an international student?

Unionizing will benefit international students in many ways.  A union will give international students a platform to collectively address common concerns such as clarity in departmental hiring processes and job opportunities. Because student visas typically limit the number of hours that students can work, achieving higher stipends that keep pace with the cost of living is of particular importance for international students. Most importantly, a union will allow all student workers to unite for improved pay, benefits, and other terms on conditions of employment and join a nationwide movement of higher education employees uniting to improve higher education.