Last week, we shared Al’s testimonial documenting the need for robust nondiscrimination language in our contract, as well as language protecting international and DACA grad employees who are forced to miss work because of visa issues. This evening, we want to share the story of Esti, another member who bravely stepped forward to tell the Administration about the difficulties international grad workers face. We continue the fight to protect our members in our bargaining session–you can help by coming to the session or getting involved in our of our committees!
Prior to coming to this country, I knew nothing about visas or I-20s: what they mean, how they work, the procedures one needs to follow to obtain them and to keep these documents in good standing. I consider myself now quite an expert on this subject, and I believe this is true for all international graduate employees who have spent at least two years in this campus. Unfortunately, this expertise is the result of the difficulties we, international graduate employees, often encounter when navigating the visa application and renewal processes. One of such difficulties is not getting the passport with the corresponding visa on time to come to the US. This happens quite often; it has happened to me, in fact. Most of us have to wait to the summer and winter breaks to renew our visas. That is the only time we can travel back home to take care of it. Because of the short window to schedule an appointment with the Consular section—it needs to be no more than two months in advance to the desired date—and the amount of people who are also looking at the same dates for the same reasons, the time span between the interview at the Consulate, the arrival of the visa—it usually takes between seven and 15 natural days to get the passport back in Spain; in some countries it can take more time—and the day of departure to the US is quite narrow. So any delay in the application or renewal process can have a big impact. And delays do happen, no matter how well in advanced you have done everything. A document may be missing, in which case you have to make a new appointment with the Consulate or, as it was my case, the weather and holiday season may get in the way: because of a flood alert, my renewed visa arrived the very day I had booked my flight back to the US in January. So I had to reschedule my trip which is not easy when you have more than one connecting flight. Moreover, rescheduling flights at the end of the holiday season is tricky because everybody is going back to work/school from their vacation time. But that wasn’t the only problem. The problem was whether I would be able to arrive on time to teach the first week of classes and whether the university would be okay if I couldn’t. Would a late arrival impact my teaching assistantship? Would I still be paid if it was beyond my control to arrive by the time the semester began? In my case, I was expecting to be no more than a week late, but it could have been weeks, even months. It has happened to other international graduate employees in this campus. It is for this reason that we completely rely on the University’s help and collaboration to make sure that these difficulties won’t jeopardize our contracts.