International Council FAQ
Download the pdf version of this FAQ:
- California Residency
- Health Insurance
- TA Hours
- Summer Employment
- Working Abroad
- Right to Political Participation
What visa should I apply for?
That depends on your specific needs. F1 visas are the most common visa for graduate students, and generally suit grad student workers best. However, if you have a partner or a family, J1 is the way to go. With a J1 visa, your partner can come to the US and work, which is not allowed if you have an F1 visa. F1 visas allow for re-entry and 20 hours of work per week on campus, although no work rights off campus.
J-1 visas come with certain restrictions: first, you are usually restricted to the so-called “two years at home” requirement, which bans you from re-entering the US on a working visa for two years after your graduation date. Secondly, you must obtain a written authorization every time you want to start a job, whether on-campus or off-campus. This means that you need to get a written authorization before starting your TA appointment every year, quarter, or semester. Written authorization needs to be renewed every year or every time you get a new appointment.
Types of visa during COVID-19
It is important to check restrictions on different visa types issued during these last few months. These are changing very fast and affect F1 and J1 holders in very different ways. Check here.
Can I start my studies if I do not have a visa?
Yes, you do not need a visa to start your program remotely from abroad.
Can I renew my visa?
In theory, yes. International workers renewing their visas from abroad reported issues and long waiting times. It seems that you can obtain a new visa, but this is highly dependent on the waiting times and local policies of the US embassy in the country where you are applying.
I am abroad, can I come back to the US?
International students holding an F-1 visa reported being able to come back to the US. In some cases they were barred from crossing land borders from Canada and Mexico, but were allowed to arrive by flight.
International students holding a J-1 visa are currently required to apply for a special exemption to be allowed into the country. There are cases of people who obtained the exemption rather quickly and were able to come back. Your ability to return to the US is conditional on the waiting times at the US embassy in your country. It is unclear whether dependents of J-1s (J-2 visa holders) are covered by the exemption policy.
Do I need to establish California residency?
No, you don’t. In fact, it is very difficult for international students to establish residency.
What does this mean for the Nonresident Supplemental Tuition (NRST)?
International students do not generally pay their nonresident tuition. The university covers it until you reach candidacy, or “All But Dissertation” status. After that, this nonresident tuition is waived for three years. If you don’t finish in three years, it is up to each department whether this tuition is waived.
The housing situation varies by campus. Reach out to people locally to learn the real situation of housing (e.g., how many years you are guaranteed on-campus housing, estimated waiting times, etc.). To get connected with folks on your campus, fill out the contact form for the RAFA international students council.
The rental markets in some areas of the state is among the worst in the world. Check out payusmoreucsc.com for more information about the rent situation and the demands that grad student workers made last year in connection to the housing crisis in Santa Cruz.
What is rent burden?
Rent burden is defined by housing costs (rent and utilities) exceeding 30% of one’s salary.
Calculate your rent burden
Do I have to pay for my own health insurance?
If you are employed by the UC, you do not have to pay for your own health insurance. You are covered by the UC SHIP medical insurance. Details here.
However, if you come with external funding and you are not employed by the UC, you do need to pay for your own health insurance. You can either pay for UC SHIP or choose another policy (see below). This does not apply to UC fellowships, which typically include UC SHIP coverage.
Can I withdraw from university health insurance?
The university enforces a system-wide policy that all active students must have adequate medical insurance coverage while attending UC schools (either through UC SHIP or another outside policy which meets the minimum waiver standards). When an international student is attending within the US or in California their coverage must include repatriation and medical evacuation benefits.
For Fall quarter, the university made a special exception, case-by-case, for students that did not have adequate medical insurance coverage in their home country, for the students who confirmed they were attending remotely outside of the US for Fall. They required you to upload a signed written statement along with any documentation, including a screen shot of your classes for Fall being all “Remote Instruction.” This was automatically denied at first, but then manually reviewed and overridden. However, they have stated they will most likely have to review these cases each quarter.
It may be possible for the UC to cover your health insurance in your country of residence while working from abroad — you should contact your student health office and department to find out whether this is an option.
How much time can I work during instruction periods?
Due to visa requirements, you can work a maximum of 50% of your time (that is, 20 hours per week) during instruction periods. Typically, appointments are either 25% (part-time) or 50% (full-time) of the full salary.
What if I work over time?
Make sure you do not work more than 20 hours a week. Because of visa requirements, you cannot register more than 20 hours a week, or else you risk accruing unlawful presence in the country. The union also cannot win overtime payment for international TAs, since this would be employment in breach of our visa. If your TA duties require more than 20 hours a week on average (or more than 220 hours in a quarter), talk to your department so they can redistribute some of these duties. If they are unwilling, contact your campus union reps (or let us via the international council contact form) and we can fight. This is especially important during remote instruction, as departments may insist on having more people in your lectures/sections, and you might find yourself spending additional time adjusting your pedagogy to Zoom. Space may not be an issue, but your time is!
What about other services to the university?
Awards and fellowships you earn through service (e.g. graduate student representative position) or successful grants do not count as a salary and do not count as working hours. In addition, certain hourly positions may be held during breaks (winter or spring break). During breaks (and summer, assuming you are not enrolled) you do not have any restrictions on the amount of time you can work.
Can I keep working as a Teaching Assistant for as long as I need to complete my program?
No, you can’t. There is currently a limit of 21 quarters for you to be employed by the university. Note that this limit was extended due to COVID-19 and may be reverted back to 18 quarters in the future. In many cases, this extension did not apply to international students, and applies campus-by-campus. Note that this does not include summer, assuming that you are not enrolled in any summer study.
Can I work on campus during the Summer?
Yes. International students can work up to full time (100% appointment or 40 hours per week) during every break, including Summer. If you are on a J-1 visa you will need written authorization from your sponsor before your starting date. A new authorization is required every year. If you are on a F-1 visa you do not need written authorization to work on campus.
Generally speaking, on-campus employment means you are receiving your paychecks from your UC campus.
Can I work on campus during the Summer?
If you are here on an F-1 visa, you must have been enrolled in the university for a minimum of 9 months to be eligible to work off-campus, and you must obtain written authorization from your Office of International students before your start date.
If you are here on a J-1 visa, the US Department of State advises that university policies take precedence over federal regulations. This means that each campus is responsible for crafting their own policy with regards to off-campus employment. Many campuses require written authorization from the program sponsor indicated in your DS-2019. Some students reported that, in their case, only jobs that were directly connected to their area of specialization were authorized.
Check with the Office of International Students on your campus to get updated policies.
Are there any issues with working abroad in Fall quarter?
There is no federal or state law that bars you from working from abroad (however, see section on sanctioned countries). If you already have an appointment, the university cannot unilaterally change the terms of your employment and require that you be present in the state as a condition of employment (if they try, let us know via the international council contact form). Even so, UC has indicated it will allow telework for at least the Fall and has agreed that those already abroad may continue to work from abroad as long as the nature of their work allows them to. Those who are currently in the US can go abroad for reasonable reasons such as health or family ones. There are, however, tax implications for certain countries.
How about Winter quarter/Spring semester?
UC has now indicated it will likely continue to allow Academic Student Employees who are residing outside the country to work from abroad into the Winter term. We will continue to enforce our rights with the University regarding appointment security, discipline, and dismissal: the UC cannot fire people who are currently abroad and must allow us to leave California for health or family reasons as long as the work can be performed remotely. This said, our union is still bargaining with the UC right now who insist that there may be problems if students work for over a certain number of days. Reach out via the international council contact form to get involved.
What if I am a new student and do not have an active F1 visa status?
You don’t need an active visa status to work from abroad.
What if I am in a country that is currently sanctioned by the US?
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) has established regulations that prohibit U.S. “persons” (including the University of California) from providing services — including remote educational services — to individuals in countries under US sanctions without a general or specific license. The list of OFAC sanctioned countries currently includes: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria and the Ukraine-Crimea Region.
Ways of circumventing this ban include moving to a non-sanctioned country (obviously which imposes a cost on the ASEs that many probably can’t afford) or the university acquiring export licences that could take months to get approved. We should be pressuring the UC to ensure they acquire these licenses so future employment for students from these countries can be secured, instead of placing the burden of ensuring compliance on the individual.
What can I do if my employment is denied or terminated due to me being abroad?
You should reach out to a union steward as soon as possible or let us know via the international council contact form. We will help you file a grievance. Our union will fight any arbitrary termination of people who go abroad for health and family reasons.
What should I do if my department asks me to give them information they would not usually ask for, like my location? Do I have to disclose that information?
You have the right not to divulge information, but even if you do and it is used against you, you are protected from arbitrary dismissal. And we have your back; just let us know via the international council contact form.
What should I do if my university makes my employment contingent on me signing an addendum that brings in additional restrictions?
You do not have to accept any revisions to an appointment letter you have already signed, and the university cannot unilaterally impose new terms. More importantly, you cannot waive your rights by signing a document, so signing the addendum does not forfeit your rights.
Are there tax issues related to working from abroad?
Potentially. While working from abroad, you may be subject to taxes and contributions to social welfare programs in that country. We recommend inquiring with a tax expert in that country.
If you intend to remain abroad for an extended period of time, it is a good idea to update your UC Path and GLACIER as income earned outside the US is not subject to US taxes. This list of steps provides further information on this.
What is the risk of going abroad after signing a document in which I agreed to stay in the US?
You can not waive your rights by signing a document. You cannot be disciplined or dismissed without just cause, and UAW 2865 would fight any arbitrary termination of people who go abroad for health and family reasons. You should do what is best for you, and get in touch with us if you need help or information (international council contact form).
Are policies regarding employment from abroad a UC-wide, campus-wide or department decision?
The UC Office of the President (UCOP) claims departments have discretion over hiring from abroad, but at the same time is issuing what it calls “template language” to departments to use when communicating with student workers about working from abroad. Some departments have chosen to issue communications following this template language, some have altered the language, and others have not issued any communications concerning this issue. Reach out to us if you need help (international council contact form).
Right to Political Participation
Regardless of what you may hear, it is important to remember that we have the right to political participation in the United States. This participation can take many forms. The RAFA International Worker Council is one example of politicized international grads in the UC. You should get involved with us: contact us here.
Am I allowed to donate money to organizations related to the elections?
As an International student, you are not allowed to make any contributions, donations or expenditures in connection with any election. This means you cannot donate to any organization related to a local, state or federal US-election, or to any fund that supports party committee building or funds communications about the elections.
For more info: https://www.fec.gov/updates/foreign-nationals/
Am I allowed to donate money to political organizations that are not directly related to elections?
Yes, you can donate money to any political organization as long as it is not connected to any election at any federal, state, or local level.
Am I allowed to campaign for a political organization?
You can volunteer for political organizations, including those which are involved with any election. You cannot make any financial contribution to the campaign for which you are volunteering. You are allowed to volunteer with unions, including UAW 2865.
Am I allowed to vote?
As an International student, you cannot vote in any federal, state, or local elections.
Can I express my political views?
Aside from voting and donating money to political organizations connected to the elections, you are welcome to voice your political views. You can engage with any political activity that is not connected with elections at any level. You can still donate money to organizations that are not connected to the elections.
Am I allowed to protest?
Constitutional rights are granted to every individual regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. Since the right to protest falls under the right to free speech and free assembly, and since these rights are protected by the First amendment to the US constitution, International students can and almost always do join protests.
What dangers do I face if I protest?
Nonresidents have no right to remain in the US and their permanence is conditioned upon various things, including not being convicted for a criminal activity. If you are arrested, charged, and convicted for a crime that arose during your participation in a protest, this might have consequences on your visa. If you have been convicted of certain crimes in the past, police contact might prompt removal proceedings. Certainly, arrest is an additional risk for visa holders.
What shall I do if I get arrested?
If you get arrested (during a protest or otherwise), it is very important that you remain silent and do not accept any plea agreement before your lawyer has consulted with an immigration attorney. Do not lie about your immigration status to the police, do not provide fake documents, and do not sign any document before talking to a lawyer. If you are charged criminally, you will be provided with a criminal lawyer: ask them to consult an immigration lawyer on your behalf. It is good practice to always carry a card with the number of an immigration lawyer with you. If you are able, you should also contact us in this situation (international council contact form).
For more information: https://nlgchicago.org/wp-content/uploads/KYR_IDA_non-citizen_english.pdf
Am I allowed to strike?
International students are allowed to strike under the same conditions in place for domestic students.
I saw what happened at UC Santa Cruz last year. Do I risk being deported if I strike?
Not directly. There is no reason why you should lose your visa and face deportation if you strike. The UC cannot directly deport International students. UC Santa Cruz decided to threaten students with cancellation of TA appointments for the following quarter, causing students to potentially incur in the loss of active F-1 and J-1 status. Loss of active status in absence of a TA appointment is not automatic and it depends on campus and departmental decisions. Due to a range of factors, international students on strike in other UC campuses were not faced with the same threats that Santa Cruz students experienced. While this might not seem comforting, it is of huge importance, because it signals that these threats were a political decision, and that building a strong international workers’ network can function as an antidote to UC’s unfair disciplinary practices. As always, our power and our safety comes in our numbers.