We, the undersigned current international graduate students at Penn, are writing to you today to encourage you to vote YES in the upcoming union election on May 1st and 2nd at Houston Hall.

More than thirty percent of graduate students at Penn are international, making us an indispensable part of the Penn community and research workforce. Penn could n   ot function without our work. However, we face unique challenges due to our special immigration status. Think, for example, about the extra time and money we spend on visa-related issues. Let’s consider the financial burdens many of us bear as newcomers to the US — especially those who also have to support their dependents and family. Even when facing issues that concern everyone, like workplace harassment and discrimination or unjust requests for additional workloads, we respond with extreme caution to minimize the potential threats to our status.

These challenges are well-acknowledged. The people at ISSS work hard to support each individual; however, general solutions for all international scholars are still far from being adequate at Penn, and the further support we advocate for is frequently beyond their scope. On the other hand, collective advocacy is much more powerful and effective in achieving protective and supportive policies at the institutional level. Through collective bargaining, unions at other universities have won specific provisions for international scholars and provided a critical avenue for graduate students to support international scholars through these unique challenges. 

For instance, according to their union contracts, graduate students at MIT are qualified for reimbursements of up to $1,200 on their visa-related costs; days-off for visa-related appointments are now guaranteed at UC; and postdocs at Mt Sinai have won “protected time” for visa renewal and up to $1,250 in reimbursements for visa-related expenses. On healthcare and dependent support, remission of dependent healthcare premiums is now included in the graduate and postdoc union contracts at UC, in addition to 8 weeks of fully-paid parental and medical leave; postdocs at Mt Sinai now have access to a $50k/year emergency fund to cover expenses related to childcare, housing, or other financial hardship. On harassment and discrimination, interim measures during investigation and grievance processes with guaranteed timelines are accessible to all union members at Mt Sinai, UC (grads and postdocs), MIT, Harvard, UW (grads and postdocs), and other institutions. 

We need a union built by us graduate student workers because we will actively prioritize our own interests and demands. We appreciate the hard work of ISSS, and a union does not replace their essential campus services. However, too many grads still fall through the cracks. A union can help international graduate students advocate for further support to ensure all our visa and immigration needs are met on time. Rather than waiting passively and accepting what the administration decides to offer, let us democratically bargain with Penn through the collective power of our union. Since we make up a large proportion of the Penn workforce, we will have a strong voice within this union to advocate for the specific concerns of international scholars.

By voting yes, we will join over 100,000 other academic workers who are part of the United Auto Workers—the largest union of academic workers in the country. Other UAW unions have already won powerful protections and benefits for international scholars, and we are excited to join them in improving working conditions at Penn and in academia as a whole. 

If we are to improve working conditions for international and domestic workers alike, it is essential that we join together to support unionization at Penn. Only through winning this election can we win these demands and create a better Penn for all.

Pledge to vote “yes” here to help us win! For more information, check out our website for information about the rights of international graduate student workers under unionization, why more Penn grads are voting yes, and answers to frequently asked questions.

In solidarity,

Alexis Hernando, Spanish and Portuguese

Zoe Fallon, History

Lauren Perry, Law and Philosophy

Joaquin Ladeuix, History

Dajia Ye, Biology

Ran Wang, Sociology

Upasana, CIS

Apurva Ashok Prasad, Comparative Literature & South Asia Studies

Konstantinos Kallas, CIS

Rupa Khanal, Biology

Javier R. Ardila, History

Ameen Perummannil Sidhick, South Asia Studies

Shrinidhi Narasimhan, South Asia Studies

Eeman Abbasi, Biology

Koyna Tomar, HSS

Andoni Perez-Lopez, Spanish and Portuguese

Sheel Chandra, Biology

Anh Quach, Biology

Sung-Ya Lin, Biology

Nazar Khalid, Demography and Sociology

Abhi Sanghani, Anthropology

Praveen Vijayakumar, South Asia Studies

Savita Ananthan, South Asia Studies

Kaustubh, South Asia Studies

Anirudh Karnick, Comparative Literature and South Asia Studies

Juri Kim, Bioengineering

Calvin Lin, History

Mehmet Emir Turgutalp, History

Boyang Zhang, Chemistry

Han Geng, Chemistry

Karthik Narayan, Chemistry

Sooyoung Choi, Electrical Engineering

Julia Pelosi-Thorpe, Comparative Literature & Literary Theory/Italian Studies

Jack Cao, Comparative Literature

Nainika Dinesh, History

Aron, History

Astrid López Méndez, Spanish and Portuguese

Tingting Rui, Sociology

Katelyn Kim, Sociology and Demography

Xuan Li, East Asian Languages and Culture

Erik Alonso, Spanish and Portuguese

Armando Navarro Rojas, Spanish and Portuguese

Tongil Ko, Chemistry

Rushnae Kabir, Religious Studies

Pablo Aguilera Del Castillo, Anthropology

Gustavo Valenzuela Merino, Anthropology

Simron Gill, Annenberg

Nursyazwani, Anthropology

Xiao Schutte Ke, Anthropology

Tayeba Batool, Anthropology

Xin Gao, Linguistics