The J-1 nonimmigrant visa is billed as an educational and cultural exchange visitor program, but is routinely used as a temporary work visa.
AT A GLANCE
Promote international understanding
Department of State (DOS)
The J-1 umbrella includes 14 distinct categories.
NUMBERS AT A GLANCE
Sources: See U.S. Department of State, Table XVI(B) Nonimmigrant Visas Issued by Classification (Including Border Crossing Cards) Fiscal Years 2015-2019, available at https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Statistics/AnnualReports/FY2019AnnualReport/FY19AnnualReport-TableXVI-B.pdf(November 2015); U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Table 25 Nonimmigrant Admissions by Class of Admission: FYs 2009-2018, available at https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2018/yrbk_2018_ni_excel_final.zip (November 2019).
Despite being used as a work visa, the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) plays no role in regulating the J-1 program other than to enforce the standard federal wage and hour laws that apply to the general workforce.
At least six of the 14 J-1 categories present situations where J-1 workers are vulnerable: summer work travel, camp counselors, trainees, and interns, au pairs, and teachers
DOS data shows that these six categories make up just over half of all total J-1 visas issued.
Geographic isolation, employment in private homes or in low-wage, unskilled industries, and lax worker protections and oversight all contribute to J-1 worker vulnerability to exploitation.
The J-1 exchange visitor program was not designed to import foreign labor and should be redesigned to accommodate this reality.
Open jobs to U.S. workers:
The J-1 exchange visitor program regulations do not have a system in place to test the labor market for jobs where J-1 workers are employed. Currently, there is no requirement to advertise open jobs or recruit U.S. workers.
End employer-based visas:
As with most other nonimmigrant visas that authorize work in the U.S., J-1 exchange visitors are vulnerable to the extent that their lawful immigration status is tied to a job placement. An individual who has paid money to come to the United States to work has a strong incentive to stick with an exploitative situation.
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Last updated Nov. 2015