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Controversy Surrounds the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa “Summer Work Travel” Program

320px-New-york-bay.jpgWe may soon reach the cap on J-1 visas in the Summer Work Travel (SWT) program, which allow visitors participating in “cultural exchange” programs to come to the United States for a defined period of time. Once the cap is reached, no more visas will be available until January 2013. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) has recently modified several procedures related to J-1 visas, effectively limiting the total available number. While the J-1 visa SWT program has provided excellent work and educational experiences for many visitors, it has also been the subject of controversy in recent years, with allegations of mistreatment and abuse of visitors by their employers.

The purpose of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, according to DOS, is to foster “global understanding through educational and cultural exchanges.” Applicants for a J-1 visa in the SWT program must have an offer of employment through a sponsoring organization approved by DOS. They must also meet requirements for English proficiency, proof of medical insurance, and to complete orientation and ongoing monitoring with the sponsor.

As a condition of the visa, visitors must return home when the program ends so that, in the words of DOS, they may “share their exchange experiences.” Visitors typically have a thirty-day “grace period” after the completion of their program to depart the country. At this point, once they leave the country, they must obtain another visa in order to return. Most participants in the program must remain in their home country for at least two years before they can return to the U.S.

New York and New Jersey reportedly bring in the first- and third-largest number of participants in the program. Over seven thousand people participated in the SWT program in New Jersey in 2011, and over 100,000 participated nationwide. Several controversies, however, have seriously impacted the SWT program in recent years. An investigation by government auditors in South Carolina in 2010 found that many foreign students were forced to work in strip clubs, or in other businesses for at most $1 per hour. Some visitors had to share crowded apartments without enough beds. Many faced the threat of deportation if they quit or complained. Hundreds of students at a Hershey’s candy factory in Pennsylvania walked off the job last summer, citing deplorable working conditions.

In response to controversies over allegations of abuse and fraud by employers and sponsors, DOS instituted new regulations in 2011. In November 2011, DOS published a notice in the Federal Register declaring a moratorium on the designation of new SWT sponsors, as well as a cap on the total number of SWT J-1 visas. As of the first day of 2012, it limited the total number of visas to the number of actual participants in the program in 2011, which was roughly 103,000.

The New York and New Jersey immigration lawyers at Samuel C. Berger, P.C. help immigrants seeking visas to come to, or remain in, the United States. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys today, contact us online or at (212) 380-8117.

More Blog Posts:

USCIS Clarifies Meaning of “Culturally Unique” for Performing Artist Visas, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, May 17, 2012
Immigration Authorities Offer Temporary Protected Status, Employment Authorization to Syrians Due to Military Conflict, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, April 6, 2012
New Jersey Woman Accused of Offering Fraudulent Legal Services to Immigrants, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, March 8, 2012
Photo credit: ‘New York Bay’ by Tysto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.