Updates on J-1 Summer Work Travel Program

You might remember that late last year the State Department ordered a thorough review of its J-1 Summer Work Travel program.  An Associated Press investigation had shown that some businesses have exploited students on J-1 visas, and this past summer the New York Times followed the story of J-1 workers at a Hershey warehouse who walked off the job to protest their working conditions.

Well, according to the AP, the State Department is about to announce some big changes in the program.

Reporter Holbrook Mohr quotes an internal State Department memo as saying:

Some of the most significant changes would be to ban jobs in factories, warehouses and other places like seafood packing plants. The agency also plans on “re-emphasizing the adult entertainment industry prohibition by specifically prohibiting jobs with escort services, adult book/video stores, massage parlors, and strip clubs.”

It would require sponsors to “use particular prudence and caution when dealing with jobs that offer legitimate employment but also have been known to be associated with human trafficking, such as janitorial service, housekeeping and modeling agencies.”

The New York Times also reported that the company responsible for placing students at the Hershey warehouse has now been banned from sponsoring J-1 exchanges.

Mr. Ruth [Rick Ruth, acting deputy assistant secretary of state] said the department had decided to ban Cetusa, a measure that took effect on Monday, after the five-month investigation revealed a “scope and severity and pattern of noncompliance.” The lapses he cited echoed the complaints of the foreign students at the plant in Palmyra, Pa., who found themselves forced to work grueling night shifts lifting heavy boxes of Hershey’s candies for take-home pay so low they sometimes went hungry.

State Department officials found “an almost complete lack of cultural activities” for the students sent by Cetusa to the plant, and a “laxness” about their health and safety. The strains of the packing jobs and injuries that resulted were ignored by the company, officials said.

The full announcement of changes in the program is expected to be made public in March, so stay tuned.

Meantime, you can read about what may be a more typical J-1 experience in our previous article, The Ups and Downs of Summer Work Travel.

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