The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program was created by the Department of State (DOS) in 1961 to enhance diplomacy and foster cultural exchange. It now consists of 14 different programs employing hundreds of thousands of workers in a range of occupations.
The Summer Work Travel (SWT) program is the largest and has morphed into a source of cheap and exploitable labor with little opportunity for cultural exchange. Unfortunately for the J-1 SWT workers themselves, because DOS primarily has a mission to conduct foreign affairs, it lacks expertise in protecting labor standards for migrant workers and is therefore unfit to address abuse in the SWT program.
In addition to leaving J-1 SWT workers vulnerable, advocacy efforts to protect workers are undermined because of DOS’s lack of transparency about basic aspects of the program including employers that hire J-1 SWT workers, occupations, wages, and working conditions they offer J-1 SWT workers. The severe lack of transparency in the SWT program prevents an informed public debate and hinders efforts to achieve key reforms.
Workers can take action, if they believe they or someone they know is a victim of trafficking, by calling the National Line Against Trafficking at 1-888-373-7888. The call is free and lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
You can read the latest report, “Shining a Light on Summer Work: A First Look at the Employers Using the J-1 Summer Work Travel Visa,” which reveals the realities of the J-1 Summer Work Travel Visa program (SWT).