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J1 Visa – Benefits, Investigation on Abuse, Debate on Temporary Workers

What is the J1 Visa Program?

The J1 visa program was initiated after World War II in order to foster cultural diplomacy. According the State Department the “Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa category is for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs.” The visa is designed to promote global understanding through cultural and educational exchange, and participants can work in designated programs during their time in the US as well as use their free time to travel around the country. For example, students can participate in an au pair program, work as a camp counselor, study at college or university, work as an intern, work as a physician, undertake scholarly research, study at school, teach, or work on a casual basis over the summer. The period for the visa varies from a few weeks to a few years, depending on the program.One of the most popular programs on the J1 visa is the Summer Work and Travel Program which allows foreign students to visit for up to four months. Students work all over the US, in theme parks and ski resorts, resort restaurants and leisure centers. Many of these students have great experiences of the program, making new friends and earning some money for travel or to help them pursue their studies when they return to their home countries.

Benefits of the J1 visa

Not everyone has a negative experience on the J1 visa program. When the program works, the J1 visa can be a force for positive change in the life of the visa holder. For example, working for the summer in a National Park gives an overseas student an experience they could not repeat in their hometown. Working as a trainee at a multinational company in the US provides valuable work experience on a participant’s CV. Working as a camp counsellor or au pair gives a student that loves children the experience of working on their vocation in a different country. At its heart, the cultural exchange idea behind the J1 visa program is even more important today than in the past, when today people of all nationalities must work closely together but there is still cultural misunderstanding and issues with prejudice.

Is J1 Visa Abuse Being Investigated?

Incidences of abuse, according to the government, are rare and regrettable. Robin Lerner, deputy assistant secretary in charge of exchange programs, says “Most of the program is filled with wonderful placements and the students say what a wonderful time they had and the time they spent here in the United States will forever change their lives.”  But, as the stories above show, there are clearly incidents of J1 visa abuse and whether these are rare or widespread they deserve to be investigated.Deputy assistant secretary Lerner says any report of J1 visa abuse is taken seriously. In some cases the company that was licensed to offer a program on the visa scheme is disqualified and spot checks are performed on program sponsors, officials state. However, AP says that the State Department has failed to keep track of the number of complaints, much less taken responsibility for investigating issues.Officials in the government have been warned about the problems with J1 visa abuse for 20 years, according to protesters, but the State Department is only now taking the issue seriously. According to John Woods, the deputy assistant director of national security for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, there are a minimum of two federal investigations into human trafficking linked to J1 visas and more are in the pipeline.

J1 Program and the Debate on Temporary Workers

Millions of foreign workers come to the US on various visas in order to fill temporary working roles. Many industries rely heavily on cheap labor from abroad in order to fulfill seasonal tasks like harvesting or working the tourist season, or to provide staff for jobs that many Americans will not take, like home care. But how many temporary workers should be allowed into the country, and how much should they be paid? Businesses hiring foreign students save money because they don’t have to pay Social Security and unemployment benefits. Plus, students must have their own health insurance before they are allowed on the program, which removes another cost from employers. Unfortunately, this seems to be the green light for some companies and individuals to abuse the system.

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