By HOLBROOK MOHR
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The State Department announced major changes Friday to one of its premier cultural-exchange programs following an investigation by The Associated Press that found widespread abuses.
The agency issued new rules for the J-1 Summer Work and Travel Program, which brings more than 100,000 foreign college students to the United States each year.
The changes are the latest in a series of steps the State Department has taken to fix the program since the 2010 AP investigation. The investigation found that some participants were working in strip clubs, not always willingly, while others were put in living and working conditions they compared to indentured servitude.
The J-1 Summer Work and Travel Program, created under the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961, allows foreign college students to spend up to four months living and working in the United States. It was meant to foster cultural understanding, but has become a booming, multimillion-dollar international business.
"In recent years, the work component has too often overshadowed the core cultural component necessary for the Summer Work Travel Program to be consistent with the intent of the Fulbright-Hays Act," the State Department said in announcing the new rules.
"Also, the Department learned that criminal organizations were involving participants in incidents relating to the illegal transfer of cash, the creation of fraudulent businesses, and violations of immigration law."
The new rules are meant to ensure that students are treated properly and that they get jobs where there will be interaction with Americans and exposurtment says it wants to ensure the jobs are really seasonal or temporary and won't displace U.S. workers.
The program requires participants to come to the U.S. during their summer breaks, which fall at different times in different parts of the world. In the past, that had allowed companies to fill what were actually permanent jobs with a series of student workers.
Businesses that hire a foreign student over an American can save 8 percent because they don't have to pay Medicare, Social Security and unemployment taxes. Also, the foreigners must have their own health insurance.