More than 30K United Auto Workers union members oppose federal proposal limiting student visas

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Students may be subject to the proposed fixed admittance period of two years if they are from countries associated with student and exchange visitor visa overstay rates greater than 10% or if they are from a country on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website.

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More than 30,000 United Auto Workers, or UAW, union members at UC campuses have planned actions in opposition to a proposal by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, amending the length of time international students can stay in the United States before having to renew their visas, according to a joint press release from UAW Local 2865 and Local 5810.

“Having my visa status continually called into question impacts the research I’ve invested so much in, my partner, visiting my aging parents, and my ability to build a life in the US,” said Mehmet Doğan, a campus postdoctoral researcher and a head steward of UAW Local 5810, in an email.

Current rules for international student visa holders permit them to stay in the country for the length of their studies. In September, however, the DHS announced plans that would instead create a fixed four-year period for admitted student and exchange visitor visa holders before they would need to reapply.

Additionally, some international students may face an even shorter fixed admittance period of two years, after which they would have to reapply. Students may be subject to the shorter period if they are from countries associated with student and exchange visitor visa overstay rates greater than 10% or if they are from a country on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, according to the DHS website.

Kai Yui Samuel Chan, an international Ph.D. student from Hong Kong, alleged that forcing international students to renew their visas after four years, given that Ph.D. programs generally last for five or more years, is a “waste of both our time and money.” Chan, who serves as a head steward of UAW Local 2865, said it was vital that his union stand in solidarity with international students and oppose such rulings.

“I have spent two years in the US paying taxes, teaching undergraduates, contributing to research and building a life,” Chan said in the press release. “This ruling – which comes on top of a series of Executive Proclamations and an ICE Directive aimed at international academics – will not go unchallenged.”

The DHS did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.

International student enrollment at UC Berkeley consisted of more than 6,800 students total in 2019, with roughly 3,600 undergraduates, 2,900 graduate students and 300 exchange students. According to Doğan, these students are feeling increasingly unwelcome to work and study in the United States amid uncertainty over their visa statuses.

While it remains unclear as to when the DHS proposal will go into effect, UAW Local 2865 and Local 5810 are trying to stop the ruling before it goes into effect, Doğan said. The unions are organizing their members to submit comments outlining what they describe as “flaws” in the proposal, according to the press release.

“Taking on these discriminatory policies through lawsuits, petitions, direct action, and speaking out is working,” Doğan claimed in the email. “When we fight, we win.”

Contact Kaleo Mark at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @kaleomark_dc.