Fraud and Abuse Stories Lead to Foreign Student Visa Program Changes

The J-1 Summer Work Travel Program provides opportunities for full-time students at post-secondary institutions in other countries to work and travel in the U.S. for four months during the summer. Due to investigations of allegations that people were abusing the program, the State Department recently announced changes to the way these nonimmigrant visas for foreign students are granted.

In announcing the final administrative rules for visa applications, the State Department focused attention on the fact that the cultural-exchange aspect of J-1 visas had become overshadowed by the employment aspect. The announcement also noted that "criminal organizations" have enlisted participants in activities such as illegal transfers of cash, fraudulent business creation and violations of immigration law. Participants have also complained of improper or unsafe job placements, post-arrival job cancellations, excessive work hours, employer fraud and problems regarding housing and transportation.

Examples of J-1 visa reforms intended to help foreign students gain greater exposure to American culture and avoid exploitation include:

  • Excluding participating students from jobs in the construction, agriculture and manufacturing sectors
  • Prohibiting "sponsors" - companies that help students find work - from paying employers to host participants and mandating that sponsors provide itemized lists of all fees charged to students
  • Prohibiting temporary staffing agencies from connecting workers with other companies

The program allows more than 100,000 students from universities around the globe to find summer jobs in U.S. communities. Because participants must have their own health insurance, and employers can avoid unemployment, Medicare and Social Security taxes, the program has remained popular since it was first authorized by the Fulbright-Hays Act in 1961.

Helping Clients Find Employment-Based Visa Solutions

While the J-1 student visa program only involves short-term, temporary jobs, many types of employment-based visas serve a wide variety of scenarios. From EB5 investor visas to visas for outstanding professors or people of extraordinary abilities, an immigration attorney can explain how priority worker classifications and other preferred worker categories affect a client's prospects to gain a legal right to work in the U.S.