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Culture Shock: The Exploitation of J-1 Cultural Exchange Workers

February 1, 2014

They come to experience all America has to offer. They hope to pay their way by working a summer job as they experience a new culture and learn English. They work in our hotels, restaurants, fast-food chains and amusement parks. They work for companies with names synonymous with the United States: McDonald's, Disney, Hilton and more. They're J-1 guest workers. Congress created the program more than 50 years ago "to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange." Foreign youths pay American job placement agencies designated by the Department of State -- called "sponsors" -- to be placed with U.S. employers in jobs that offer cultural exchange opportunities and, for trainees and interns, professional job training.This report is based on hundreds of interviews with J-1 Summer Work Travel participants and interns and trainees working across the South, primarily in the hospitality industry. These interviews revealed that regardless of the worker's country of origin or whether they participated in the Summer Work Travel Program or the Trainee and Intern Program, the experience is the same. The J-1 program must return to its original mission of cultural exchange. It also must have mechanisms in place to protect young U.S. workers in the job market. Recommendations for reform are offered at the end of this report.

Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States

February 1, 2013

Under the current H-2 program overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), employers brought about 106,000 guestworkers into this country in 2011 -- approximately 55,000 for agricultural work and another 51,000 for jobs in forestry, seafood processing, landscaping, construction and other non-agricultural industries.The H-2 program, which provides temporary farmworkers and non-farm laborers for a variety of U.S. industries, is rife with labor and human rights violations committed by employers who prey on a highly vulnerable workforce. It harms the interests of U.S. workers, as well, by undercutting wages and working conditions for those who labor at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. This program should not be expanded or used as a model for immigration reform.It is virtually impossible to create a guestworker program for low-wage workers that does not involve systemic abuse. The H-2 guestworker program should not be expanded in the name of immigration reform and should not be the model for the future flow of workers to this country. If the current H-2 program is allowed to continue, it should be completely overhauled. Recommendations for doing so appear at the end of this report.