United States fails to tackle stu­dent visa abuses

The Pak Banker - - International3 -

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

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