Student and Exchange Visitor Program: Where Exchange Students Come From, And What They Do When They Get Here
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You've heard of exchange students, right? Ever wonder how that got started?

The purpose of the Program is to provide foreign nationals with opportunities to participate in educational and cultural programs in the United States and return home to share their experiences, and to encourage Americans to participate in educational and cultural programs in other countries. Exchange visitors enter the United States on a J visa.
Fulbright-Hays Act, 1961, Title 22: Foreign Relations

Fulbright's 1961 legislation seemed innocent enough, although the same thing could be said of most legislation when it's being sold to the public. The idea for the Fulbright-Hays bill goes back to 1940 when Nelson Rockefeller came up with a concept he called an "exchange of persons program." Fifty years later the program morphed into just another cheap labor subdidy for big business: "Publix Gets Publicity For Hiring Foreign Students".

Employers such as Publix can hire temporary workers by use of an immigration program called the "Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)". It allows foreign students to enter the United States by granting them J-1 nonimmigrant visas. Once they obtain J-1 status they are eligible to be authorized to work.

There are many categories of foreign nationals who can qualify for J-1 nonimmigrant visas. Post-secondary students at colleges or universities with J-1 visas can get work authorization to be employed at almost any kind of off-campus job if they claim that they are having an economic hardship (Source: 22 C.F.R. § 62.23 (g) (1) (iii)). Of course economic hardship probably describes about 99% of the student population, so it's not difficult for them to get permission to work off-campus. They also have the option of finding jobs on-campus, which unfortunately puts them in direct competition with American kids who desperately need work-study programs.

It's easy to get J-1, F-1, and M-1 visas confused with each other because many of the regulations for them are identical. Hopefully after reading this paragraph you will no longer be confused (LOL!). The J-1 is designated as a cultural exchange; the F-1 visa is for academic studies; and the M-1 is used for vocational training. The major difference between the F-1 and J-1 is the source of funding to pay for tuition. Both F-1 and M-1 can qualify for the Optional Practical Training Program (OPT) while J-1 is excluded from that option. There are a few constraints on the use of OPT, most notably the job must be an internship in the student's field of study of Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM). All the visas including OPT have no yearly cap, so they are unlimited in numbers. Students on F-1 and M-1 can get authorization for the same types of jobs that J-1s can get if they show economic necessity and for some reason they don't get an OPT.

The J-1 visa can be used by students who participate in degree and non-degree programs. That distinction might seem minor but it can be used as gaping legal loophole to broaden the definition of who can get a visa and who can hold jobs in the U.S. Too see just how wide that loophole can be, take a look at the list of SEVP Approved Schools as of February 4, 2010. The document has 185 pages of entries in very small print. The file is in PDF format so it's almost as easy to search as a database. Here are a few samples I picked somewhat by random:

  • Crestwell School, Fort Myers, FL
  • American Islamic College, Chicago, IL
  • American Jewish University, Los Angeles, CA
  • American Lutheran Theological Seminary, Minneapolis, MN
  • Archdiocese of Chicago Office of Catholic Schools Chicago, IL
  • Finger Lakes School of Massage, Ithaca, NY
  • Educating Hands School of Massage, Miami, FL
  • Air Venture Flying Club Olive Branch, MS
  • Flight Control Academy, Tucson, AZ
  • Evergreen Beauty and Barber College. Everett, WA
  • Barber School Annandale, VA

I picked the first one in order to find one close to the Publix stores in Fort Meyers, FL. because that's one of the locations known to hire J-1 students. Of course I have no idea if a foreign student from that school works at Publix, but the possibility is there.

Notice the next four — the schools are Islamic, Jewish, Luthern, and Catholic. Doesn't it seem like a rather explosive mix of foreign students to invite into this country?

Coincidentally I recently talked to a friend who mentioned that he caught a cab driven by a Nigerian. The cabbie said he was a student at a local barber school. It wasn't too difficult to find barber and beauty schools on the list, so the story is very plausible.

I also happened to find some schools of massage. (Hmmmm! Hmmmmm! Hmmm!) Of course I'm sure most of the massage instruction is strictly therapeutic.

I selected a few flight schools from the list, which seem to be plentiful. Not to worry though because surely the DHS has checked all of these schools out, especially now that Janet Napolitano is running things. Still, it seems odd that even after 9/11 we are still training foreign "students" to fly airplanes.

The potential for terrorists to use SEVP schools as fronts is very real as these two excerpts from a special report by the DOJ will demonstrate:

The Immigration and Naturalization Service's Contacts With Two September 11 Terrorists: A Review of the INS's Admissions of Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, its Processing of their Change of Status Applications, and its Efforts to Track Foreign Students in the United States. May 20, 2002, Office of the Inspector General.

Inadequacies in the INS's process for approving schools, 2002
Although federal regulations require that schools be certified before they can accept foreign students, the INS's review of schools consists primarily of a review of paperwork submitted by the school. We also found that INS often did not inquire further even when the paperwork raised obvious issues about the school's ability to meet the requirements for certification.

The largess of the business of contracting foreign students would require a book to comprehensively cover. The following two examples are used to illustrate the types of jobs that the bodyshops have their hooks on:

The Interlatina web site lists employee fliers to recruit J-1 students. They are passed around in South American countries. In the spirit of making Vdare more bilingual-friendly, I won't translate the text, but the meaning is easy to understand: "Listado de empleadores Work and Travel":

Publix Supermarkets Orlando, Naples y Miami (8 vacantes), Publix Supermarket Naples & Fort Myers (5 vacantes), Stillwater appartments Miami (males only) (3 vacantes), Wendy's Pensacola, Florida (8 vacantes), Pedi Cab Key West (21 or over) (10 vacantes), Golden Hotel (14 vacantes, only female)

Dollar Rent a Car, CO (21 or over) 3 vacantes, Sales, Secret CO, Ski resorts, Ober 5 vacantes

Connecticut: Woodbury Ski Area 3 vacantes

Hilton Baton Rouge, Econo Lodge NY, Boomtown Hotel & Casino 2 vacantes

Fast Food:
Mc Donalds Lafayette, SONIC Lafayette 5 vacantes, Subway, WI 3 vacantes

Harrisburg, PA 20 vacantes

Otros destinos y empleadores:
USA Hostels San Diego 2 vacantes, Supermarket, NC 4 vacantes, Shell Stores 5 vacantes, Sales Ariel Las Vegas 5 vacantes, Casa Ole Resto, LA 5 vacantes, Cedar B, Lodge UT 3 vacantes

For the second example we have a Job Fair in Paraguay:

One hundred and eighty university students and their parents in Asunción, Paraguay, recently attended an information session about YMCA program opportunities in the U.S., presented by John Hedbavny of the International YMCA.

The presentation preceded a two-day job fair attended by Jacie Gdoviack, Director of International Programs for the YMCA of the Rockies (CO), and Vladimir, representing Publix, “the fastest growing supermarket chain in the U.S.” Both were kept busy Interviewing for Winter Work & Travel positions for both companies, and for Trainee & Intern positions at the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch and Estes Park sites.

Hedbavny interviewed those interested in being U.S. summer camp counselors through ICCP. Some forty-five students were hired by Publix and seventeen by the Y of the Rockies.

The job fair was organized by Alexis Alcaraz, our recruiter in Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina, and former International Y Trainee. Alcaraz and Hedbavny also visited the U.S. Embassy in Asunción to meet with the Consul and further strengthen the International Y’s J-1 visa programs. They then flew to Montevideo, Uruguay, to promote the J-1 programs in that country, visit the ACJ (YMCA), and meet with officials at the U.S. embassy.


By now readers may get the false impression that J-1 visa holders must attend a U.S. school in order to find jobs. That's because the term "student" implies that they are attending a school in the United States. That's not always the case however because "student" can be used as a global term for a person who attends a school located anywhere in the world. A program under the SEVP umbrella called "Summer Work/Travel (SWT)" allows foreigners who are attending schools in other countries to work in the U.S. for up to four months, which coincides with the amount of time students in other nations get for summer vacations.

All that is required for a foreign national to qualify for SWT is to show up at a U.S. consulate, fill out a few forms, and pay $35 for a J-1 visa. The odds of qualifying are very good for foreign applicants because the average interview is just 3 to 5 minutes, which is hardly enough time to thouroughly check backgrounds.

Evidence in the article by Amy Bennett Williams in the Fort Myers News Press: "Publix hires foreign workers" [January 19, 2010] suggests that Publix uses J-1 students on SWT. These two tidbits of information in two different parts of the article provide the evidence:

Q:Are they all university students?
A: Yes, they are all college students. They are on their summer break from their university.

Although numbers aren’t broken down by county, there are 7,756 J1 visa-holders in Florida, said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Darlene Kirk. The department calls it an “Exchange Visitor Program,” allowing foreign college students to “become directly involved in the daily life of the people of the United States through travel and temporary work.” Publix doesn’t reciprocate in the exchange.

The fact that Publix doesn't reciprocate is the real tip off. SEVP is called an exchange program because the J visa assume a situation where foreign students come to the U.S. while the U.S. sends similar numbers of our own students to their home country. In many cases there is no exchange — it's more like a one way street where most of the students flow into the U.S. and few go out. Perhaps countries like Paraguay aren't very interested in allowing Americans to work in their grocery stores, or another explanation would be that Publix employees prefer to stay in Miami.

Publix and other employers can get away with these one sided immigration deals because there is nobody to mind-the-store. This statement on a Florida State University web page says it all:

The J program does expect reciprocal exchange to occur. Although there is no organized program of exactly equal exchange with the countries represented on our campus under the J program, there are various exchange opportunities for students and faculty to travel abroad.

Keep in mind that J-1 visa holders can obtain J-2 visas for spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21 years of age. J-2 visa holders cannot get work authorization, but they are entitled to most government services offered to citizens. If the married couple or one of their daughters births a child while they are in the U.S. that child becomes a jackpot baby.

If everything described so far wasn't bad enough, there are other problems with the J-1 visa program — like for instance it is rife with fraud. Typically the crimes involve setting up phony schools in order to sell fraudulent student visas to foreigners who are willing to pay. Most of them usually overstay their visa and become out-of-status illegal aliens. Sometimes unwitting foreigners aren't aware that the visa they pay for are fraudulent, and that the school is a facade, so they get scammed. A recent case in California deserves mention because it is such an elaborate scam:

University accused of being front for visa scam,

By Jon Cassidy
The Orange County Register December 24, 2009

The owner and operator of California Union University – a purported university in Fullerton whose Web page is literally just one page – is due in court today to face federal charges that his school is actually a front for a visa fraud scheme.

Samuel Chai Cho Oh, 65, surrendered to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents Tuesday morning, after a 10-month investigation into the school, which purported to offer courses in four areas: Biblical studies, English as a second language, Oriental medicine, and martial arts.

So, we have large numbers of foreign students on J-1 Visas (statistics) that work in the U.S. They pose both a national security threat and they are direct competition for jobs sought by high school and college students, and Americans who would rather work than live on welfare. The student exchange program isn't just a U.S. problem either (go to Visitorgate), it's a global phenomenon. If I was on one of President Obama's job creation panels, one the things I would suggest would be to stop the J-1 madness.

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