State Department to Review J-1 Visa Program

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for a review of the popular J-1 student visa program, an anonymous State Department spokesperson told The Associated Press.

The J-1 program was created in 1963, enabling international college students to obtain short-term employment in the United States, often during summer breaks from school. In 2010, there were 132,342 participants in the Summer Work Travel Program, according to State Department figures, which also show that every month, there are more than 170,000 J-1 visa holders working, studying or teaching in the United States.

Despite the popularity of the program, it has lately come under scrutiny. In August, hundreds of J-1 visa holders walked off the job at a Hershey’s packing plant in Pennsylvania, saying the work conditions were grueling, pay was abysmal and they were not benefiting from any meaningful educational experience, which is part of the stated mission of the J-1 program.

“There is no cultural exchange, none, none,” Zhao Huijiao, one of the protesting students, told The New York Times. “It is just work, work faster, work.”

More recently, a federal indictment stated that organized crime rings in the United States have been able to use the J-1 program to bring women from Eastern Europe to work in New York strip clubs, the AP reported.

Per Secretary Clinton’s order, the State Department will undertake an “extensive and thorough review” of the program, the AP’s source said.

While the allegations of exploitation are troubling, the J-1 program saw participation rise from 20,000 students in 1996 to more than 150,000 in 2008, the AP reported. As of November 1, there were more than 40,000 people with J-1 visas in California and New York alone, and more than 1 million students have participated in the last 10 years, according to the State Department.

Those interested in participating in the program need to obtain a Form DS-2019 from one of the program sponsors listed on the State Department website, then apply for the visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate.