State Department's OIG Rips the Summer Work Travel Program

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on March 23, 2012

News reports have revealed that both of Alaska's U.S. senators are pressuring the State Department to back off from proposed regulations that would put Alaska's seafood processing plants on a list of job sites off-limits to the controversial Summer Work Travel program. This reinforces a point that the Center for Immigration Studies made in our report: "Cheap Labor as Cultural Exchange". The sad reality is that there are no lobbyists for unemployed American teenagers. It's even sadder that U.S. senators are willing to lobby for a program that employs thousands of young foreigners as long as they are willing to work at substandard wages for 16 hours a day.

Now the State Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has come out with a report that is highly critical of the Summer Work Travel program and other programs administered by State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Exchange (ECA). Here are a few points from the report:

  • Public criticism of the Summer Work Travel (SWT) program is the most recent negative consequence of unfettered growth and weak regulation of privately funded exchanges. ECA should strictly limit SWT until it can provide proper oversight.

  • ECA's leadership needs to provide stronger program oversight. SWT is an example of a program that suffers from overexpansion, poor supervision, and weak compliance regulations.

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  • Of the 180,000 participants in eight private sector exchange programs in 2010, 120,000 came to the United States under the SWT program. Until recent events forced the issue, ECA never sought to limit the growth of this program. Established in the early 1960s, SWT was intended as an opportunity to allow foreign university students with limited means to travel to the United States during their summer vacations and work in seasonal jobs. Many SWT participants were and still are found at beach or other summer resorts across the country and report satisfaction with their experiences. For most, their initial contact is with an overseas agent of an SWT sponsor. ECA has no input into the fees that sponsors or their overseas agents charge prospective participants. Given the different academic calendars in the southern hemisphere and in East Asian countries, SWT is now available year-round to students from various parts of the world. Despite the intent that SWT participants fill only seasonal jobs, sponsors have expanded the program to include a wide variety of year-round employment in many unskilled jobs.

    Within the past few years, growing law enforcement concerns about the types and location of some SWT employment and related activities exposed serious deficiencies in the quality of job "vetting" undertaken by designated sponsors.