J-1 visas: Not doing jobs Americans would do
August 25, 2011, 08:25 PM
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Jennifer Gordon writes in an op-ed in the NYT about that amusing strike at the Hershey factory by foreign students who thought they were signing up for fun in the sun and got stuck lifting cases of candy on the late shift in Nowheresville, PA:
The J-1 visa, also known as the exchange visitor visa, has its roots in the cold war. In 1961, Congress created a program for international students and professionals to travel here, with the goal of building good will for the United States in the fight against Communism. The program, which became the J-1 visa, thrives today — but not as Congress intended. 
Instead, it has become the country’s largest guest worker program. Its “summer work travel” component recruits well over 100,000 international students a year to do menial jobs at dairy farms, resorts and factories — a privilege for which the Hershey’s students shelled out between $3,000 and $6,000. They received $8 an hour, but after fees and deductions, including overpriced rent for crowded housing, they netted between $1 and $3.50 an hour. Hershey’s once had its own unionized workers packing its candy bars, starting at $18 to $30 an hour. Now the company outsources distribution to a non-union company that hires most of its workers from the J-1 program. 
The Pennsylvania workers are not alone. Recent exposés by journalists and advocates have found similar abuse of J-1 visa holders at fast food restaurants, amusement parks and even strip clubs. 
Though the number of J-1 visa holders admitted to the United States swelled from 28,000 in the program’s first year to more than 350,000 in 2010, and the government made minor changes to the program earlier this year, the State Department has never established a sufficient oversight system. Instead, it hands that responsibility to organizations it designates as sponsors, who profit from the arrangement and so have no incentive to report abuses.
Why, after three years of high unemployment with no end in sight, hasn't this program been suspended for the duration of the slump? 
There are a whole bunch of unemployed American citizens with two-digit IQs who wouldn't mind these jobs (although not at $1.00 to $3.50 per hour), but Two Digit Americans are almost completely unrepresented by anybody in modern American life. When I hear sophisticated folk go on and on about how they are "cosmopolitan" and thus don't care about invisible lines on the ground or how, as Bill Clinton said on 9/10/2001: "the world will be a better place if all borders are eliminated," by this point I realize that, in practice, what all that high talk comes down to is somebody who is good with an Excel spreadsheet getting the better of a bunch of their fellow citizens who aren't.