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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

International student telecommuters to receive compensation, spring 2021

Associated Students of Madison (ASM) legislation calling to compensate student hourly employees telecommuting from abroad has been accepted by UW-Madison officials for the spring semester. 

In a Dec. 8 email addressed to Matthew Mitnick (ASM Chair), Samuel Jorudd (Grant Allocations Committee Chair), Lennox Owino (Nominations Board Committee Chair) and Brian Li (Student Council Representative), UW-Madison Chief Human Resources Officer Mark Walters explained that the overturn of international student employment rules poses little liability and risk because not many international student hourly employees would opt to telecommute from countries other than the United States. 

“For the spring semester, student hourly appointments will require the same approval process for working remotely as other employment categories (e.g., graduate assistants),” says Walters. “I will communicate this change to the HR community next week.”

Upon notification of rule modifications in his Jan. 8 email, Walters also addressed the university’s current commitment to provide back pay for students involved.

And, through the ASM call to action, international student workers will gain the opportunity to be put on payroll upon telecommuting this spring. 

Back when international student telecommuters faced the inability to be on university payroll, Li — a student council representative who lived outside the U.S. during the fall semester — was asked by an HR representative whether he would like to uphold his normally-paid position without compensation. 

“I said yes, because my input is valuable. It was a choice given to us, they are letting us work without pay,” Li said, further proving his dedication to the student body.

“I’m so grateful to see that every single effort finally pays off after such a long time and hope affected students can feel a bit relieved under this going-on pandemic,” Li explained after the recent change in policy. “And most importantly, hope they feel they belonged to our campus, just like every other group of students.”

ASM student leaders have shared Walters’ email on Twitter to praise the decision and the perseverance upheld by UW-Madison’s student governance body. 

“International student telecommuters can now get paid in any campus job,” Mitnick tweeted on Jan. 9. The ASM Chair followed with an appreciative statement geared toward Owino, Jorudd, Li, Student Council speakers and individuals who emailed the UW administration regarding this issue.

The Teaching Assistants Association (TAA) used Twitter to describe the shift in policy as “A big WIN for international students” on Friday as well.

Starting over two months ago, Mitnick, Owino, Li and Jorudd explicitly pushed for Walters and Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller to move toward equal opportunity by allowing all student workers who telecommute to be paid — regardless of whether they live in the U.S. during a COVID-19 impacted semester.

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“UW is fully compensating non-student international telecommuters who are in the exact same situation,” the ASM representatives wrote in a Letter to the Editor on university discrimination against international student workers in late November. “The decision to not pay international student telecommuters is a policy choice the administration is making simply to cut costs.”

UW-Madison Human Resource officials claimed to be unaware of international students telecommuting as hourly employees during the fall 2020 semester. In early December, Walters noted that international students would be compensated for completed work but would not receive payment for telecommuting in the future. 

Per the Jan. 8 email, Walters stated that the University’s concerns surrounding “cybersecurity issues, employment requirements unique to each country, and international tax implications” will not have a significant impact due to the low volume of international student telecommuters.

“This is why we won’t stop fighting for what’s right,” Jorudd stated in a tweet that honors the ASM victory in motivating equal treatment for international students. “Eventually, we prevail.”

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