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Immigration: Feds tweak student visa program

February 3, 2012 |  4:37 pm

Student-Visas
The State Department this week took a small step to fix a controversial visa work travel program created nearly 50 years ago to foster cultural exchanges but that has, in recent years, morphed into little more than a source of cheap labor.

The visa, known as the J-1 work travel program, allows foreign students to earn some money while visiting the United States. The program is operated by the State Department, but in reality it relies on private groups, or sponsors, to recruit and supervise the foreign students during their time in this country. In recent years the program has been plagued by reports of abuse.

As a result, federal officials have banned the Council for Education Travel USA from sponsoring students.  The company, until this week, was one of the largest organization that handled the special visas.

The change in policy is intended to address concerns raised last year when hundreds of foreign students sponsored by the company and placed at a Hershey's packaging plant in Pennsylvania staged a walkout. The strike was intended to protest poor labor conditions. The young men and women at the plant said they were forced to work long hours for little pay and had been placed in shoddy housing. Those who complained were threatened with deportation and told to work harder, according to the students.

The decision to bar the Council for Educational Travel, however, amounts to little more than a tweak in the program. If the State Department wants to protect visiting scholars and promote a positive image of the United States, it ought to take enact tougher measures and add more oversight.

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Photo: Students protess the working conditions at a Hershey Co. warehouse in Palmyra, Pa. Credit: John C. Whitehead / the Patriot-News

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