Posted on May 23, 2012

Foreign Students Enjoy New Summer Job Protections — But What About Americans?

Pamela Constable, Washington Post, May 22, 2012

Across the Washington area last week, young workers from Europe arrived in droves, heading for jobs at community swimming pools. Lugging duffel bags, they filled out forms, picked up safety gear and chatted in a variety of Slavic languages, eager to plunge into a summer experience of new friends, skills and culture.

“Now I can meet many people and see America,” gushed Anzhala Scherbina, 21, a petite student from Ukraine whose family spent $3,000 so she could fly here and enter a U.S.-sponsored work-travel program. {snip}

The Obama administration is going to great lengths to make sure Scherbina and about 100,000 other foreign student workers are not disappointed. Last summer, the popular program, aimed at creating good will abroad, was rocked by scandal when students working at a candy warehouse in Pennsylvania staged a protest, complaining of isolation and overwork.

On May 11, the State Department issued rules that ban foreign students from jobs that could be harmful, limited them to light, seasonal occupations that are not likely to displace U.S. workers and required closer scrutiny of their conditions.

But the new rules do not address a broader, more profound question that some immigration and labor experts have raised about many sectors of the economy. Today, more than 50 ­million Americans of traditional working age are not employed, and yet a growing number of domestic jobs — from hotel clerks to nurses to computer scientists — are being performed by foreign-born workers.

For college-age Americans, there is a high rate of unemployment among those from poor families and fierce competition among middle-class students to build résumés that show responsibility. So why, critics wonder, are fewer young Americans snapping up relatively easy summer jobs? {snip}


Some immigration experts and companies that hire local pool guards are skeptical of such claims. They said that profit is the real issue and that foreign students are cheaper because employers get a tax break and are not required to pay Social Security or Medicaid benefits. Most foreigners are hired at job fairs in their native countries; recruiters offer them a package of terms and wages starting at the U.S. minimum of $7.25 an hour. {snip}

“From age 18 to age 65, there has been a massive deterioration in native employment,” said Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, a policy research firm in the District. “No one disputes this. What they dispute are the reasons why.”

He said that some recruiters lure contracts with U.S. firms by promising savings and that visitors who depend on employers for visas and housing are less likely to object to abuses.


In addition to correcting abuses such as overpriced housing and unsavory work conditions for foreign students, the new rules provide safeguards for adult American workers so they will not be replaced by less-costly foreign students. This is a second reason the visitors are being barred from warehouses, factories or any company where U.S. workers are on strike.

“The new rules add some clear protections for both American workers and temporary guest workers,” said Jennifer Rosenbaum, a lawyer for the nonprofit National Guestworker Alliance in New Orleans. “These are complimentary issues. The students need to be placed in seasonal jobs that have a strong cultural component and not in permanent ones that could be done by Americans. This will definitely create more American jobs.”