To illustrate how loosely the State Department's J-1 foreign-worker program is being administered, the speaker at a Georgetown University Law School session this morning told of this internet advertisement, translated from the Russian:
Come work in the best strip clubs in the United States, on a J-1 visa.
The speaker was Daniel Costa, who has just completed a lengthy report on the misuses of the State Department's J-1 Exchange Visitor program for the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank; the sponsor of the meeting was Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of International Migration; the setting was the GU Law School, a few blocks from the Capitol.
Costa, a lawyer, suggested that what had once been a lightly used international exchange program for scholars had morphed into an almost totally unregulated foreign worker program whose diplomatic benefits have long been over-weighed by the abuses of ill-paid foreign visitors and the loss of American jobs. He said that as many as 300,000 jobs were filled with foreign workers in the 16-some categories of the J-1 program, which he said had only 13 compliance officers in 2009, up from four in 2005.
The largest of the J-1 programs, and the most troublesome, is the Summer Work Travel Program that brings foreign college students to the U.S. for four-month-long jobs (if they, in fact, get placed) mostly in service industries, and mostly at low wages. The program, he pointed out, uses no test of the U.S. labor market – employers need not try to hire U.S. workers before they apply to the program, which involves no numerical limits, nor reference to the U.S. Labor Department (as is the case in the various H nonimmigrant visa programs). For the CIS take on that summer job program see here and here.
The State Department has started to acknowledge a few of these problems, as it has published interim new rules on the Exchange Visitor Program - Summer Work Travel in the Federal Register of April 26, which contained this statement:
...the Department of Homeland Security has reported an increase in incidents involving criminal conduct (e.g., money laundering, identity theft, prostitution) in several non-immigrant visa categories . . .
Costa, incidentally, did not say that the Russian internet ad had been placed by the State Department, but it did relate to an overseas affiliate of one of the J-1 sponsors.
Costa cited several government reports over the last 21 years that have made what he called "scathing" comments about the program, including two from GAO and one from the State Department's own Inspector General. The thrust of these reports were that the State Department had no business in running nonimmigrant worker programs, that these programs often abused foreign workers, and always denied jobs to American workers.
He also noted that the government of Belarus, which I regard as the least attractive of the former Soviet republics, has warned its own young people not to participate in the program, on the grounds that they will be exploited.
He said that the State Department registers sponsors for these programs, and that the sponsors often have affiliated employers who actually employ the foreign workers. State relies on the sponsors to police the program, but that puts the sponsors in an inherent conflict of interest situation, that of regulating themselves. State does not have a field force to monitor the program, and nor does it use, for example, the Department of Labor's wage-hour investigators to do so.
The Walt Disney Co., he said, it is one of the biggest users of Summer Work Travel Program, has made "millions in profits" from it, and has lobbied vigorously to keep it alive and unregulated.
Costa said that the full text of his nearly finished report would be available in about two weeks, and it presumably will be announced on the EPI website.
He also said, in response to a question, that the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Immigration will hold a hearing on this and related subjects on Wednesday, June 22, and he is on the witness list, but later that day the House Judiciary Committee's website announced that the hearing, as well as several others, had been postponed to dates not yet set.