In December 2003 the University of Massachusetts at Amherst began imposing a $65/semester ‘International Student Fee’ on international students. The fee was introduced to generate revenue for the university’s International Programs Office (IPO), to administer the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), a federally mandated program that tracks personal information about international students, and towards the office’s budget.
Members of the campus and surrounding communities immediately organized against the fee, arguing it was discriminatory based on citizenship. Many students that refused to pay the fee were threatened with deportation.
GEO-UAW (Graduate Employee Organization-United Auto Workers) Local 2322, the amalgamated local that has represented the graduate student employees, including Master and Doctoral RAs and TAs, since 1990, quickly jumped in to help lead the campaign and immediately filed a grievance citing the ‘International Student Fee’ violated the non-discrimination clause in the Union contract.
After the University refused to resolve the grievance, a neutral arbitrator ruled that in fact the fee did discriminate based on national origin and the university must cease and desist charging international graduate student employees an international student ‘fee’ and ordered that the university refund all graduate student employees who had already paid the fee. Read the full decision made by the American Arbitration Association here.
But GEO did not stop there. It continued to help lead the campaign to get the fee rescinded for all international students, not just those covered by the Union contract.
As Craig Sinclair, a GEO member and international graduate student in Comparative Literature put it after the arbitration decision:
Finally the university has learned that it cannot balance the budget by singling out vulnerable populations, such as international students. Importantly, this arbitration decision shows respect to international students at UMass, a respect for our civil rights that has been lacking on campus. We now call on UMass to offer Amnesty for Internationals, to rescind the fee and stop the actions already taken against withholders.
The university ultimately stopped charging the international student ‘fee’ for all students, applying the principle won by the Union in its arbitration case to all international students on campus.
Read more about this historic decision here:
GEO-UAW Local 2322’s archived page that chronicled this victory