International student issues #2 - Visas and unionizing

By the International Student Sub-Committee of OrganizeUW

Image of Toronto Pearson Airport, indoors, a Canadian flag hangs above a nondescript group of travellers in the distance engaged in the hustle and bustle of air travel. Photo by H W on Unsplash

This article is the second article in a series of short posts by our international student organizers.

Visas and unionizing

If you are an international student concerned about unionizing possibly impacting your visa status, then rest assured that unionizing does not affect statuses of international students. Unions are legal entities in Canada and all workers in Canada are able to be covered by a union and sign a union card without fear of reprisal.

In fact, being part of a union could be beneficial for students having visa issues. The collective union agreement provides protection against sudden policy changes at the institutional level regarding work.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) monitors changes in legislation well before they come into force and works directly with international worker organizations and movements to track changes that affect international/migrant workers. Moreover, CUPE represents many migrant workers and advocates for increased rights of migrant workers to all levels of government.

Being part of a union also helps in providing legal support regarding resident statuses and immigration. International students with pending study permit applications/renewals are often unable to start their program/employment in the university, which means that they cannot be paid by the university if an application issue comes up. The union deals with this issue by negotiating language in the collective agreement that holds the employer to account on providing support to international students who have been offered employment. The local could also try to negotiate contract language that creates an incentive for the university to avoid offering positions without also facilitating the entire employment process.

Part of this is making sure the collective bargaining takes into consideration international student issues. There are several structures in the local that could be established to provide international student representation on these committees. For example, it is common to have a sub-committee run by, and for, international student members. This ensures a dedicated place for them to raise issues and have a clear voice within the local and as essential workers at the university.

Want to find out more? We have an international student FAQ and a 2-minute guide to unionization in English and Mandarin. If you want to sign up, click here to request a union card. And if you have questions, want to talk to our international student team, or volunteer, you can email us or stop by our weekly video call (every Tue, 1:30pm EST). We would love to hear from you!

Committee to Organize uWaterloo
Committee to Organize uWaterloo
supported by CUPE

The Committee to Organize uWaterloo is a grassroots campaign to unionize the academic workers at the University of Waterloo. The campaign is supported by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Canada's largest union.

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