United States fails to tackle student visa abuses
MYRTLE BEACH: Lured by unsupervised, thirdparty brokers with promises of steady jobs and a chance to sightsee, some foreign college students on summer work programs in the U.S. get a far different taste of life in America.
An Associated Press investigation found students forced to work in strip clubs instead of restaurants. Others take home $1 an hour or even less. Some live in apartments so crowded that they sleep in shifts because there aren't enough beds. Others have to eat on floors.
They are among more than 100,000 college students who come to the U.S. each year on popular J-1 visas, which supply resorts with cheap seasonal labor as part of a program aimed at fostering cultural understanding.
Government auditors have warned about problems in the program for 20 years, but the State Department, which is in charge of it, only now says it is working on new rules. Officials won't say what those rules are or discuss on the record the problems that have plagued J-1 visas.
John Woods, deputy assistant director of national security for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, told the AP there were at least two federal investigations under way into human trafficking related to J-1 visas. He would not provide details.
The AP interviewed students, advocates, local authorities and social service agencies, and reviewed thousands of pages of confidential records, police reports and court cases. Among the findings: " Many foreign students pay recruiters to help find employment, then don't get work or wind up making little or no money at menial jobs. Labor recruiters charge students exorbitant rent for packing them into filthy, sparsely furnished apartments so crowded that some endure "hotbunking," where they sleep in shifts.
Students routinely get threatened with deportation or eviction if they quit, or even if they just complain too loudly. Some resort to stealing essentials like food, toothpaste and underwear, according to police.
"The vast majority of participating students in this program find it a rewarding experience and return home safely," the State Department said in an e-mail to the AP.
But it's not hard to find exceptions. Most of the nearly 70 students the AP interviewed in 10 states, hailing from 16 countries, said they were disappointed, and some were angry.
"This is not what I thought when I paid all this money to come here," said Natalia Berlinschi, a Romanian who came to the U.S. on a J-1 visa hoping to save up for dental school but got stuck in South Carolina this summer without a job. She took to begging for work on the Myrtle Beach boardwalk and sharing a threebedroom house with 30 other exchange students.
"I was treated very, very badly," Berlinschi said. "I will never come back."
The State Department failed to even keep up with the number of student complaints until this year, and has consistently shifted responsibility for policing the program to the 50 or so companies that sponsor students for fees that can run up to several thousand dollars. -Ap
RAWALPINDI: Pakistani labourers wait for customers at a market on Monday. Pakistan's central bank raised its benchmark interest rate by 0.5 percent to 14 percent, warning for the second time in two months that rising inflation was impacting the economy. -Reuters