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Instances of abuse tarnish J-1 student worker visa program

J-1 visas are used for student work exchange programs. The summer work travel visas are aimed at providing students from around the world with the opportunity to live and work in the United States for a period of time. However, the program has also been taken advantage of by employers who exploit the student workers.

Recently, student workers organized and took part in protests over the exploitation. A recent protest was in retaliation for treatment of foreign student workers who were employed by McDonalds. The workers say they were mistreated and denied the work opportunities that they were promised.

One student who took part in the protest is from Argentina and said he took out a loan and traveled for days to take part in the summer work visa program. However, when he got to the McDonalds restaurant he was assigned to in Pennsylvania, the conditions were nothing like he had been promised.

The young man said that he was forced to live in the basement of a house owned by the owner of the McDonalds franchise with seven other students. He was given a tiny room and $300 was deducted from his paycheck each month for rent, which was much higher than the market rate.

The worker said he had been promised 40 hours of work each week, but he only got 25 and was expected to stay on call the rest of the time. When the students complained about their treatment, their employer threatened to reduce their work hours or deport them, the student said.

A spokesman from the State Department said the program is a valuable one that is usually filled with "wonderful placement." But after the State Department began receiving complaints in recent years of abuse of the J-1 visa, or Summer Work Travel Program, it reduced the number of students that are allowed to participate in the program from about 150,000 a year to about 90,000 per year.

The State Department said it will be conducting investigations into the allegations of abuse. Hopefully those responsible for the abuse will face consequences so that they don't ruin the program for all who benefit from it.

Source: NPR, "U.S. Probes Abuse Allegations Under Worker Visa Program," Yuki Noguchi, March 18, 2013.

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