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Students and Foreign Workers using U.S. Visa Exchange Programs to Be Given More

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Plans to regulate the use of foreign workers in the United States have come under attack from businesses which rely on cultural exchange programmes to operate.

The new immigration measures, currently being debated on the Senate floor, would require companies and brokers who use foreign workers to register with the U.S. Government and would prevent them from taking fees from foreign workers.

Businesses, such as summer camps, au pair agencies and hotels, have argued that the new restrictions would effectively prevent them from bringing foreign workers to the country and would negatively impact their business operations. In addition to restricting the practice of bringing foreign workers into the country, the new proposals could mean that companies which sponsor foreign workers could be liable for any infractions or violations committed by the workers whilst in the U.S.

Whilst many argue that the new plans are too restrictive, many U.S. labour groups have spoken out in support of the new proposals and argue that they will prevent foreign workers being exploited whilst they’re in the U.S. Although many U.S. Visa exchange programs are designed to allow workers to gain cultural enrichment, critics argue that they are merely a way for U.S. businesses to access cheap labour.

Workers coming into the US under these programs enter under a J1 Visa exchange as opposed to a US ESTA waiver which is designed for tourists from 37 countries participating in the Electronic System for Travel Authorization program.

Recent high profile cases have highlighted the issue with students claiming that they are given menial tasks to do for low pay and that they are required to pay high fees to recruiters in return for relatively little.

Although the State Department did recently restrict the types of work students are allowed to do whilst in the U.S. on a cultural exchange program, many have argued that there still isn’t enough enforcement and students remain at risk.

Jorge Rios recently spoke out after returning to Argentina following a cultural exchange program in the U.S. According to Rios, he paid over $3,000 to take part in the program and once in the U.S. he was forced to live in poor conditions and give half of his weekly $150 earnings to his landlord.

Currently, many au pair agencies, hoteliers and recruitment agencies are lobbying the Senate to abandon their plans to restrict the industry and claim that the vast majority of students working in the U.S. do benefit from the experience.

However, whilst businesses continue to take large fees from student participants and benefit from the limited tax liability, many argue that their fiscal interests outweigh their moral or ethical concerns. Although cultural exchange program supporters claim that the current proposals will effectively place a stranglehold on the industry, many continue to argue that the Government isn’t doing enough to protect foreign workers.

Whilst the Senate may be forced to revise the proposed amendments, it is hoped that some changes will be made to prevent exploitation and ensure that students and foreign workers are treated fairly whilst in the U.S.

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