After months of advocacy from students on campus and across the globe, the University of Wisconsin will reverse its decision to not compensate international student telecommute workers for the spring semester.
In a letter from UW Chief Human Resources Officer Mark Walters sent to Associated Students of Madison representatives Friday, Walters said the administration will remove the general prohibition on compensating international telecommuting student workers during the fall semester amid COVID-19.
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The letter was addressed to ASM reps. Samuel Jorudd, Lennox Owino and Brian Li, all of whom sponsored legislation in early December urging UW administrators to extend payment to all student telecommuting workers, whether or not they are in the U.S.
Prior to Friday’s announcement, UW administrators stated that they would not support the legislation to pay undergraduate international telecommuting workers because of the risks and liabilities associated with employees working outside the country, including cybersecurity issues, employment requirements unique to each country and international tax implications.
Walters said in the letter that UW decided to reverse its policy after implementing an exception process in December, which allowed only ASM representatives to telecommute for work outside of the country. Dean of Students Christina Olstad received and approved one exception request since then, Walters said.
Following the implementation of the exception policy, Walters said UW will reverse its original decision because a “relatively small number” of student hourly employees would work outside the country given the opportunity.
“This decision is based on the minimal additional risk and liability incurred by adding these few student employees to the UW-Madison employees already working outside the country,” Walters said in the letter.
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Walters said student hourly workers will still undergo the same approval process for working remotely as other employment categories, such as graduate student assistants. Walters also said in the letter that UW is working to address any delayed payments for student hourly employees from the previous semester.
In a statement to The Badger Herald, ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick said this decision also reverses a hiring freeze that prevented international student telecommuters from being hired in the first place. Mitnick said the policy reversal indicates student advocacy and pressure can make effective change.
“We were told months ago that this policy could not be reversed, but after many months, the administration chose to value international student telecommuters for their very important work,” Mitnick said in the statement. “This shows that anything is possible with passionate and authentic student advocacy!”
Li said in a statement to The Badger Herald that he is “grateful” to see all students’ efforts provide equity for international telecommuters. As a telecommuting student worker himself, Li said he hopes this change alleviates financial and mental pressure for affected students.
Owino echoed Li and Mitnick’s sentiments about the reversal of the decision, but he said there are still issues with the policy’s initial implementation that need to be addressed in the future.
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“I am still disappointed that the policy existed in the first place, denying many international students their rightful wages in the fall semester and winter break,” Owino said in a statement to The Badger Herald. “In the future, shared governance with student leaders should be prioritized to prevent such unjust policies from being brought up in the first place.”
Walters said in the letter that the policy reversal will be communicated with HR representatives on campus in the next week.