Cheap Labor as Cultural Exchange: Table of Contents

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Part One: The Globalization of the Summer Job. The story of SWT’s role in international diplomacy and of the intense, sophisticated, and lucrative recruitment both of the students whose fees fuel the industry and the employers who provide the jobs.

Part Two: Young Americans "Don't Know How the System Works". The story of young Americans displaced by SWT, which uses international job fairs to line up summer workers months in advance. A second story tells of the culture clash at Hershey, where the legend of a benevolent chocolate baron met the harsh reality of SWT.

Part Three: SWT in Alaska: Fish Sliming as Cultural Exchange. The story of SWT in Alaska, where some 2,000 "cultural exchange" workers take jobs that used to be magnets for American college students, including 1969 Wellesley graduate Hillary Rodham, now overseeing SWT as Secretary of State.

Part Four: "A Cavalier Attitude": The State Department's Legacy of SWT Failure. The story of the State Department’s long history of mismanagement of SWT, including its indifference to its effects on American workers. Included is an interview with Rick Ruth, the State Department’s new man in charge of SWT.

Epilogue: An open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. CIS calls on Secretary Clinton, whose department oversees the SWT program, to reform it so today’s young Americans can enjoy the same summer work experiences as she did many years ago.


The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) report, “Cheap Labor as Cultural Exchange: The $100 Million Work Travel Industry”, is based on five months of reporting by CIS senior research fellow and Pulitzer Prize-winning former journalist Jerry Kammer.

The series tells the story of the State Department’s troubled Summer Work Travel (SWT) program and its rapid growth over the past 15 years into a $100 million international industry that has spread around the globe. SWT is emblematic of a larger problem with the nation’s immigration system, where new programs are created and allowed to expand significantly without giving careful consideration to their impact on the labor market or the larger American society.

2011 was particularly turbulent for SWT. When the State Department issued new regulations in the spring, it acknowledged that some sponsors were neglecting their duties and that the existing regulations “do not sufficiently protect national security interests, the Department’s reputation, and the health, safety and welfare of Summer Work Travel program participants.” In short, the program had been infected by many abuses, leaving some participants defrauded and allowing others to be recruited by organized crime or strip club owners.

In the summer of 2011, Stanley Colvin, the State Department official who long directed SWT and other exchange programs, was quietly replaced. Then the Hershey protest brought global notoriety to the program. In October, according to Rick Ruth, who replaced Colvin, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "directed the State Department to conduct a thorough and rigorous review of the Summer Work Travel program and make recommendations" aimed at ensuring that the program "fulfills its original purpose as a cultural program for foreign college and university students." In early November, Ruth announced that the number of SWT participants for 2012 would be frozen at its 2011 level of about 103,000. That move, he said in December, would facilitate a review aimed at "determining how to best move forward, via program reforms and new administrative procedures."

Kammer, a former investigative reporter, tells the story of the State Department’s inability to establish proper management of SWT despite years of criticism by the Government Accountability Office and State’s own Inspector General.