Now the J1 Visa is on the spot, and for a reason. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has ordered an “extensive and thorough review” of a foreign exchange program that has been used by U.S. businesses as a source of cheap labor and exploited by criminals to import women to work in the sex industry.
The J1 Work & Travel Program offers overseas university exchange students a challenging opportunity to intimately experience life and culture in the U.S. during their summer holiday period.
Work & Travel J1 provides international university students the chance to work at entry-level, seasonal jobs in the United States for up to 4 months on a J-1 Visa. Participants are entitled to work, earn money and travel at the end of the work assignment.
The U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee also has been gathering information on the J-1 visa, which was created in 1963 to allow college students from other countries to spend their summer breaks living, working and traveling in the U.S.
As the program has grown to bring more than 100,000 young people here annually, it has become as much about money as cultural understanding.
The State Department has made several changes since an Associated Press investigation last year uncovered widespread abuses, including living and working conditions that some participants compared to indentured servitude. In one of the worst cases, a woman told the AP she was beaten, raped and forced to work as a stripper in Detroit after being promised a job as a waitress in Virginia.
The reforms being considered by the State Department would limit and refine the types of jobs students can have, expand the list of prohibited employment categories, and strengthen the “the cultural aspects of the program to ensure that the objective of the program – positive exposure to the United States – is accomplished.”
The agency already prohibits participants from taking jobs “that might bring the Department of State into notoriety or disrepute” but the AP found that strip clubs and adult entertainment companies openly solicited J-1 workers.
Critics say the students have gotten little help from companies designated as sponsors by the State Department. We hope that the third party sponsor will take a more active role in making sure j1 students are safe in the hands of employers during the J1 work period.