Freedom Network USA (FNUSA) submitted comments to the Department of State on RIN 1400-AD14, Proposed Rule, Exchange Visitor Program – Summer Work Travel, 82 Fed. Reg. 4120 (Jan. 12, 2017) (“Proposed Rule”). These proposed changes would affect immigrants who come to the United States under the J-1 Summer Work Travel (SWT) program, a guest worker program designed to promote cultural exchange through post-secondary students. However, there have been cases where the primary goal of cultural exchange has been overshadowed by the sponsor’s desire to secure cheap labor which can result in poor outcomes for workers.
Guest workers are highly vulnerable to labor exploitation because they do not receive the same level of worker protections under US law. FNUSA suggests the five following recommendations to protect SWT workers and prevent human trafficking within the program.
- Eliminate the sponsor-based enforcement and monitoring structure and hold employers directly liable for compliance with the program rules. The current structure, which outsources program oversight to the sponsors, is ineffective and a core reason for the proliferation of abuses.
- Regulate the recruitment of J-1 workers to protect against fraud, excessive fees, and human trafficking. Prohibit designated J-1 sponsors from charging fees to workers, and also ban fees charged to workers by third party recruiters with whom sponsors engage, both in the U.S. and abroad. Create a recruiter registry identifying all actors in the chain of recruitment, between the sponsor and the SWT worker.
- Ensure the program is fulfilling its original mission of cultural exchange while guaranteeing that J-1 workers and U.S. workers have robust labor and employment protections. Ban placement in all low-wage jobs with no meaningful cultural exchange component. Require employers to recruit U.S. workers before hiring J-1 workers and to pay J-1 workers a DOL-issued prevailing wage comparable with the average wage for the occupation filled according to local wage standards.
- Provide a path to justice for J-1 workers by protecting them from retaliation, facilitating their ability to hold employers liable, and providing them with legal recourse when sponsors, employers, and recruiters violate their rights.
- Make information about the J-1 program publicly available and easily accessible to ensure that the program and its impact on the U.S. labor market can be monitored and that the regulating agencies can be held accountable by stakeholders and the public.
Read full comments on these regulations here.