US Fails to Tackle Student Visa Abuses

Fox News, December 6, 2010

Lured by unsupervised, third-party brokers with promises of steady jobs and a chance to sightsee, some foreign college students on summer work programs in the U.S. get a far different taste of life in America.

An Associated Press investigation found students forced to work in strip clubs instead of restaurants. Others take home $1 an hour or even less. Some live in apartments so crowded that they sleep in shifts because there aren’t enough beds. Others have to eat on floors.

They are among more than 100,000 college students who come to the U.S. each year on popular J-1 visas, which supply resorts with cheap seasonal labor as part of a program aimed at fostering cultural understanding.

Government auditors have warned about problems in the program for 20 years, but the State Department, which is in charge of it, only now says it is working on new rules. Officials won’t say what those rules are or discuss on the record the problems that have plagued J-1 visas.

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The AP interviewed students, advocates, local authorities and social service agencies, and reviewed thousands of pages of confidential records, police reports and court cases. Among the findings:

–Many foreign students pay recruiters to help find employment, then don’t get work or wind up making little or no money at menial jobs. Labor recruiters charge students exorbitant rent for packing them into filthy, sparsely furnished apartments so crowded that some endure “hotbunking,” where they sleep in shifts.

Students routinely get threatened with deportation or eviction if they quit, or even if they just complain too loudly. Some resort to stealing essentials like food, toothpaste and underwear, according to police.

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–The State Department failed to even keep up with the number of student complaints until this year, and has consistently shifted responsibility for policing the program to the 50 or so companies that sponsor students for fees that can run up to several thousand dollars. That has left businesses to monitor their own treatment of participants.

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Businesses that hire students can save 8 percent by using a foreign worker over an American because they don’t have to pay Medicare, Social Security and unemployment taxes. The students are required to have health insurance before they arrive, another cost that employers don’t have to bear.

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–Strip clubs and adult entertainment companies openly solicit J-1 workers, even though government regulations ban students from taking jobs “that might bring the Department of State into notoriety or disrepute.”

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J-1 students have been recruited to smuggle cash that authorities said was stolen from U.S. bank accounts, court records show, and their identities have been used in a million-dollar income tax scam.

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In the worst cases, students get funneled into sexual slavery.

The J-1 Summer Work and Travel program, which allows college students to visit for up to four months, is one of the State Department’s most popular visas. {snip}

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Hotels, restaurants and other businesses often hire third-party labor recruiters to supply the J-1 workers. Many of those brokers are people from the students’ native countries, often former Soviet bloc nations.

These middlemen commonly dock students’ pay so heavily for lodging, transportation and other necessities that the wages work out to $1 an hour or less, according to George Collins, an inspector at the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department in the Florida Panhandle who has worked cases involving J-1 students since 2001.

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