If you’re heading to an amusement park or a resort in the next few weeks, you’ll surely meet one of the more than 50,000 hospitality industry workers who arrive in the U.S. every year on J-1 Summer Work Travel (SWT) visas.
The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program was started in 1961 to enhance diplomacy and foster cultural exchange. 104,512 J-1 workers were hired through the SWT program in 2018. But advocates, workers and policymakers have been kept in the dark, undermining efforts to protect J-1 workers. The J-1 SWT program has transformed into a source of cheap and exploitable labor.
For decades, the inner workings of the program have been a mystery. That ends today. The International Labor Recruitment Working Group (ILRWG) — a coalition of organizations across labor sectors, chaired by CDM — released the report “Shining a Light on Summer Work: A First Look at Employers Using the J-1 Summer Work Travel Visa.” The report is a deep dive into flaws of the program and how to solve them.
We’re so grateful to our ILRWG co-authors: the AFL-CIO, Economic Policy Institute, Justice in Motion and Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I am speaking out because I don’t want others to fall into this trap,” said Oliver Benzon, a former J-1 SWT worker in Ocean City. “The world needs to know about this program — a government-approved program that businesses are using to denigrate workers’ rights.” We were proud to launch this report alongside Oliver and our co-authors during a press call this morning.
The program exposes young workers from around the world, like Oliver, to unacceptable risks — from intolerable working conditions to wage theft. 67 J-1 visa holders self-reported as victims of human trafficking between 2015 and 2017. This is likely just the tip of the iceberg.
The number of J-1 workers hired through the SWT program has increased by more than 400% since 1996. The data suggests that some of America’s biggest corporations — Disney, McDonald’s and Holiday Inn — are using the program to skirt regulations on collective bargaining, restrictions on other work visa programs and depress wages.
The program must be reformed. Our report recommends specific policies to restore integrity to the SWT program and adequately protect workers in affected industries and communities
But none of these reforms will be possible if the public remains in the dark about the J-1 SWT program. Check out the report and share it with friends and allies!