Thu, Feb 02, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Changes ahead for US foreign-student exchange program

AP, Jackson, Mississippi

The US Department of State plans major changes to a foreign exchange program that has been exploited by unscrupulous labor brokers and organized criminals in the sex industry, according to an internal memo obtained on Tuesday by reporters.

The Jan. 18 memo comes more than a year after an investigation uncovered widespread abuses in the J-1 Summer Work Travel program, which annually allows more than 100,000 foreign college students to work in the US for up to four months. It came from Adam Ereli, assistant secretary for the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and was addressed to US Assistant Secretary of State Ann Stock.

“The reforms we are undertaking will significantly reduce the opportunities for wrongdoing and catch it much more quickly when it does occur,” the memo said.

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.”

There’s also a provision aimed at protecting US workers, “such as a more precise definition of temporary seasonal employment and a bar against SWT job placements during layoffs or lockouts.”

The memo said the rules would be made public next month. The US Department of State did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

The companies the US Department of State designated as official sponsors — which charge up to several thousand US dollars to arrange visas and jobs for the participants — objected to changes made last year and to the anticipated new restrictions.

“They have told us they are taking these complaints to Congress, though we have yet to see any indication of congressional support for their position,” the memo said.

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