GEO calls for more information from ‘U’ about new international fee in online petition

Tuesday, September 3, 2019 - 5:08pm

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Design by Roseanne Chao

The Graduate Employee Organization published a petition last month requesting more information about a recently approved University of Michigan fee for most international students. The additional expense was created to bolster support services for international students at the University. 

The petition, which was published on Change.org three weeks ago, has amassed more than 380 signatures as of press time.

GEO decided to create the petition to stand up for all University students who will face additional obstacles in their path to degree completion because of the fee, said Rackham student Allan Martell, co-chair of GEO’s International Students’ Caucus.

The fee doesn’t actually apply to all graduate students — for example, Ph.D. students currently have the fee waived. But GEO decided to create the petition to stand up for all University students who will face additional obstacles in their path to degree completion because of the fee, said Rackham student Allan Martell, co-chair of GEO’s International Students’ Caucus.

“I know many other international students who are masters and (undergraduates),” Martell said. “They, for the most part, are not covered under GEO — there is only a handful of students who are. Even if most members of our association wouldn’t be affected, we are acting out of solidarity and recognition that this is going to affect people other than ourselves and people who are making a lot of sacrifices so that they can find their studies here at Michigan.”

In the petition, GEO argued the fee contradicts the goals of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan on campus. GEO wrote the fee not only creates additional financial burden but adds to the issues international students already face with national immigration policies and political discourse.

Additionally, the petition said University administrators have attributed the fee to sustaining and enhancing services to support the success of international students and compliance and reporting requirements, though they question the University’s ability to do this without a detailed plan for the use of the money.

The $500 per semester fee was approved by the Board of Regents on June 20 and took effect in the fall semester. The fee applies to students on F-1 and J-1 visas, which are for international students studying in the United States, and was created to fund support services for students attending the University on these specific visas.

A 2018 report from the University’s International Center listed 6,628 students on the F-1 visa and 115 students or the J-1 visa. International students accounted for 14.9 percent of the student body in 2018.

The fee, which is similar to others that support programs like the University Health Service and Student Legal Services, aligns the University with other institutions like Michigan State University that have a fee or tuition differential for international students, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily. 

According to Fitzgerald, because the fee will support services related to creating a welcoming campus environment and supporting academic success, it does not contradict the goals of DEI initiatives on campus.

“(T)he University places a high priority on providing supportive services and infrastructure that promote a sense of welcome and integration into the campus community and that promote academic success,” Fitzgerald wrote. “This fee will help the University to maintain and enhance its commitment to international student services, programming and compliance, and we see no conflict with the University’s commitment to DEI.”

Additionally, the University has hosted, and will continue to host, immigration advising, cultural exchange activities and workshops and panels about topics such as navigating the U.S. job market, Fitzgerald wrote. He noted these experiences often come out of conversations between University staff members and the international students themselves.

He explained deciding on specific details of the implementation of the revenue created by the fee, though the University has and continues to welcome community input. Fitzgerald encouraged those with questions or input to consult the Frequently Asked Questions page or contact the University by emailing internationalstudentfees@umich.edu.

“It will take some time to determine the ways in which the funding generated by the fee will be utilized,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Many in our community have communicated directly with the Provost’s Office and through the International Center the need for additional services and programming, and we want to be thoughtful and listen to these groups as we make allocation decisions.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, students on F-1 visas come to the United States to enroll in a full-time program of study a certified school. Students on this visa have a designated official at their school who is responsible for helping them through the “international student lifecycle,” a pathway for international students to study in the U.S. and maintain their visa.

While F-1 visa holders can be a student at any point in their academic career, J-1 visa holders must enroll in a full-time post-secondary program at an academic institution. The J-1 College and University Student Program allows participants to have career-related training as an intern in their home country. Additionally, students on the J-1 visa have a cultural component of their program to engage them with the U.S. culture and share their home culture with their host families.

With Chinese students accounting for approximately half of the University’s international student population, Jiaheng He, LSA junior and co-president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, said his organization felt a need to speak out against the fee. The Chinese Students and Scholars Association has joined GEO in requesting more information about the fee and what the money will go toward.

“What we really hope for the school to do is to give us more information and tell us what they're going to use the money for,” He said. 

He said he hopes the money will be put directly into improving the lives of international students on campus, such as through offering more scholarships or additional opportunities. He is concerned this will create a dangerous precedent, as the fee could increase or another group could be singled out similarly in the future.

Martell said GEO is requesting a town hall with University Provost Martin Philbert to gain more insight in relation to the fee, though the organization’s previous communications with the Provost’s office have gone unheard. GEO members attended a meeting with LSA leadership, though they left that meeting with more questions than answers, he said.

“We really have no information that makes a compelling case for the necessity of the fee,” Martell said. “We see no reason for it. We just think that it will be better to get rid of it all together, but we also acknowledge that we may not have all the facts.”