Abuses in Summer Work Travel Program Extend far Beyond Hershey and CETUSA

By Jerry Kammer on February 6, 2012

Last week, the New York Times reported on the State Department's decision to bar the Council on Educational Travel USA (CETUSA) from sponsoring young foreigners who come to the United States in the Summer Work Travel (SWT) program.

That dramatic action followed last summer's internationally publicized protests by CETUSA-sponsored SWT participants who said they were overworked and underpaid at a mammoth Hershey Co. distribution center outside the Pennsylvania town that bears the name of the iconic chocolate giant.

But as CIS showed in our report about the SWT program, "Cheap Labor as Cultural Exchange", the problems among SWT sponsoring organizations – who take in more than $100 million in fees from the young foreigners every year – extend far beyond CETUSA and far beyond the problems at Hershey.

Consider this excerpt from a 2009 cable from the Fraud Prevention Unit (FPU) at U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia. It describes fraudulent attempts to obtain the coveted J-1 visa that grants admission to SWT:

During this year's Summer Work and Travel season, FPU paid particular attention to Rospersonal, an SWT agency new to our area. Initially, we discovered that the agency was providing its students with job offers through Alliance Abroad Group at US companies that no longer existed. Further investigation revealed that they were also selling fake university IDs and student record books for clients who were not bona fide students but nevertheless were looking for a way to go to the U.S.

What, if anything, did the State Department learn about the role of Alliance Abroad in this matter? We don't know.

The State Department's public reporting on enforcement actions involving the J-1 program provides no indication of disciplinary action involving this case. Indeed, it provides precious little evidence of disciplinary action of any sort against SWT sponsoring organizations.

And what action have SWT administrators taken in response to an alarming situation described in a 2009 cable from our embassy in Moscow? The cable reported that State was involved in an "investigation with DHS and FBI regarding a Eurasian Organized Crime group operating in Colorado and Nevada that is suspected of using 28 Summer Work and Travel (SWT) exchange program students including two female students from Russia to participate in financial fraud schemes."

And what of the claim of a broker for topless dancers, reported 14 months ago by the Associated Press, that it was "affiliated with designated visas sponsors" and could find young women jobs in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and other cities?