J-1 Visa Student Workers

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jennifer Gordon, professor of labor and immigration law at Fordham University, and Jason Nark, reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News, discuss the recent strike by J-1 visa student workers at a Hershey distribution plant in Pennsylvania and the wider experience of J-1 visa workers.


Jennifer Gordon and Jason Nark

Comments [21]

Seasonal Staff

The Work and Travel USA is a program run by the United States government. Under this program, international students can legally enter the US for 4 months during their vacations and work for US employers. This program is beneficial both for US-based businesses who use seasonal staffing to cover their rising work force needs during the busy month, and for students who get a perspective on American culture, travel, and earn money. Thousands of overseas students have been enrolled in this program since it was started.

Though it's our job at to match successful Work and Travel USA applicants with your seasonal employment needs, handling all the paperwork that arises, we feel there may be things you would like to know about the program. Here we have listed the most important details about the J1 Visa and the Work and Travel USA program that you may need as an employer.


Nov. 08 2011 07:18 AM

I used to work for an exchange program using J-1's. At that time, J-1's were very limited and specific to the recipients schooling/professional training. It was not possible to work outside a strictly defined professional area. Recently I met two western Europeans in NYC who were working in education (pre-school) for years! It was, essentially, a work visa gotten by paying some exchange profit organization. While I am the strongest supporter of exchange, these are jobs many, many local NY'ers would want. Thiat this is happening now, in impossible labor times, for a non-high-skilled job, is simply offensive. Fine for short-term professional training but not for years.

Aug. 28 2011 01:30 PM
Charles Printz from NY Area

As an immigrration law practioner, it is very disappointing that you elected to focus on a very very narrow area of the J-1 program. The J-1 program includes short term scholars, provides graduate medical education to foreign medical grads; many of whom then serve the US in health professional shortage areas. I urge that you provide a program that truly informs the public of the J-1 program and how it aids academia, medical practice, and assorted other areas other than the narrow area your ptrogram dealt with.

Charles printz
Teplen& Associates

Aug. 26 2011 11:58 AM
Lynn Decker from Staten Island

I am one of those people that had no clue, and I find this to be appalling on so many levels! A program that was set up as a cultural exchange program has been hijacked by greedy, selfish employers. Workers are now a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market. We have kids here who can't get a summer job, because now in this country, minimum wage is more than these companies can bear to pay. If you can't afford to pay your employees a living wage, then you can't afford to be in business, period!

Aug. 26 2011 11:48 AM
nonny mouse

Ira Glass on This American Life did a segment that included interviews with students on the J-1 visa: [search for J-1].

Aug. 26 2011 11:45 AM
Henry from Manhattan

I used to volunteer as a counselor at a Christian Summer camp program.

The grounds we held the retreat at always had a young foreign staff that changed every year, they were responsible for providing meals and usually doubled as life guards for the lake and other upkeep tasks.

They worked the whole summer through, (I was just up there with my group for a week) but they had down time in-between camp programs that came and went. They usually made a trip into NYC as a group at some point.

My staff loves the foreign visiting staff because while the campgrounds and program stays the same over the years, we get to meet fresh faces from all over the globe. We’d usually hang out after hours when our children were asleep and have a great time.

Aug. 26 2011 11:43 AM
Elisabeth from Lower Eastside

Dozens of young future professionals, graduate students, come each year from Europe to the US - with J1 visas - to do their required internships in law firms, in banks and at NGO's and diplomatic missions. There it seems to work very, very well.

Aug. 26 2011 11:42 AM
dbbk from bklyn

the j-1 program is obviously being abused. canada? really?

Aug. 26 2011 11:41 AM
Bob Moore

I tried to bring a student over on a J1 to the steamship company i worked for and the conditions for training and the syllabus which we were required to submit was extremely onerous. In fact, the company could not comply and we gave up.

Aug. 26 2011 11:41 AM
Elisabeth from Lower Eastside

Dozens of young future professionals, graduate students, come each year from Europe to the US - with J1 visas - to do their required internships in law firms, in banks and at NGO's and diplomatic missions. There it seems to work very, very well.

Aug. 26 2011 11:41 AM
Q from Croton on Hudson

I was in Martha's Vineyard in July and saw two cashiers in package store who were stunning blondes and I asked them where they were from and they told me from Belarus and Romania. I also noticed in the Shoprite and Net Result (a fish store) both in Vineyard Haven, they employed teenagers whose accents were eastern european and who spoke to each other in what sounded as a Slavic language. It appears that a lot of the minimum wage jobs in Martha's Vineyard are being filled by these teenagers.

Aug. 26 2011 11:41 AM

Wow. A new low in US corporate culture. Thanks for this segment.

Aug. 26 2011 11:41 AM
Maria from Astoria

J1 visas are also the ones given to Fulbright Scholars. I found it very helpful in that I was able to find paid work while attending Grad school. It allowed me to stay for the duration of my studies plus a year of practical training. Then we have to return home for two years after that before applying for any other residency/student visas to the US. It was a great cultural experience for me and made very easy with the help of IIE (International Institute of Education). As long as its properly regulated by the sponsor institution, it works.

Aug. 26 2011 11:41 AM
Dan from JFK

I see a lot of hustlers that linger in the arrival areas of JFK airport in May and June as the J-1's arrive and they are clearly preying on them. Specifically Terminal One when the Aeroflot and Lufthansa flights arrive with Belarusan and Moldovan students arrive.

Aug. 26 2011 11:36 AM
damisi from manhattan

my partner is a scientist and has benefited greatly from the J-1 visa scheme but I have to say the J-1 seems to be the spearhead of bringing in highly educated science and technology students and professionals (yes a lot of professionals also use as a guest work permit and have significant tax advantages) to this country where Americans could be employed.

Aug. 26 2011 11:33 AM
Smokey from LES

I sent the Hershey story to a Lithuanian friend who worked on J-1 at a Florida Golf resort and she said her experience was even worse! She was treated like a slave.

Aug. 26 2011 11:33 AM
Benny from Jersey City

What about health insurance for these kids? This entire system is corrupt.

Aug. 26 2011 11:33 AM
Larry from LES

I am VERY happy someone is bringing light to this. Most Americans have no idea this even exists.

I can tell you from my personal experience young people on J1 Visas are often overworked and abused. Many times they are locked in indentured work situations where they need to pay for lodging. Summer camp workers often work 24/7 with no breaks.

This needs to be looked into.

Aug. 26 2011 11:31 AM
Jen from new york

This American Life actually profiled a piece which imports J1 workers to work at the reststops on the NYState thruway. It supports, to a slightly lesser degree, some of the positions of the striking workers in Hershey - overworked, underpaid, overpromised

Aug. 26 2011 11:30 AM
Jack from New Jersey


Aug. 26 2011 11:30 AM
Craig Kuehl (pronounced Keel) from East Village

I am a retired Foreign Service Officer. My last posting was in Istanbul, which issues J-1 visas to thousands of Turkish students each year to allow them to participate in the "Summer Work and Travel Program". Based on my experience, which dates to 2008, the overwhelming majority of these students return with positive impressions of the United States and the programs, which are run by private contractors. In other words, the Hershey experience is not typical of this program. Moreover, I just visited the web site of the consulate general in Istanbul, and saw that they have a very good primer called "know your rights" on their "summer work and travel" page. I don't know if this information has been there all along or was posted in response to the Hershey events.

Aug. 26 2011 11:15 AM

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