This takes exploitation of workers in a sort of creative direction: J-1 visas are supposed to allow foreign students to come to the U.S. for a summer, work for two months and then travel. They get the experience of living and working here, not just the tourist experience. It really is a great idea for the students and for the United States.
But of course, these days an increasing part of the American experience is crappy employers driving down wages and working conditions, and J-1 visa holders have gotten to experience that, too:
"There is no cultural exchange, none, none," said Zhao Huijiao, a 20-year-old undergraduate in international relations from Dalian, China. "It is just work, work faster, work."
In an apparent first, this Wednesday, hundreds of foreign students walked off their jobs working for a subcontractor packing Hershey's chocolates for $8.35 an hour, some of them on the night shift, and the National Guestworker Alliance filed a complaint with the State Department on their behalf:
[S]tudents who wound up at the Hershey's plant were living in "economic captivity," forced to pay for mandatory company housing that left them with $40 to $140 a week for 40 hours of work.
Management of the J-1 visa program is, of course, not handled by the State Department but by a non-profit called the Council for Educational Travel, U.S.A.:
Rick Anaya, chief executive of the council, said he had brought about 6,000 J-1 visa students to the United States this summer. Mr. Anaya said he had tried to respond to the Palmyra workers’ complaints. "We are not getting any cooperation," he said. "We are trying to work with these kids. All this negativity is hurting an excellent program. We would go out of our way to help them, but it seems like someone is stirring them up out there."
Anaya is probably deploying the old "outside agitator" line against the National Guestworker Alliance. But I think the someone "stirring them up out there" is the crappy employer into whose hands Anaya put the students. Way to take what should be an educational program that gives young people from around the world a deeper understanding and affection for the United States and give them a load of bad experiences here.
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