Changes ahead for foreign exchange program

JACKSON, Miss. – The U.S. State Department isproposing what it calls “significant and controversial” changes to a foreign exchange program that has beenexploited by unscrupulous labor brokers and organized criminals in the sex industry,said an internal memo obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

The Jan. 18 memo comes more than a year after an AP investigation uncoveredwidespread abuses in the J-1 Summer Work Travelprogram, which annually allowsmore than 100,000 foreign college students to work in the U.S. for up to four months. It came from Adam Ereli, assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and was addressed to Assistant Secretary of State Ann Stock.

“The reforms we areundertaking will significantly reduce the opportunities for wrongdoing and catch it much more quickly when it does occur,” the memo said.

Some of the mostsignificant changes would be to ban jobs in factories,warehouses and other places like seafood packing plants. The agency also plans on”re-emphasizing the adult entertainment industry

prohibition by specificallyprohibiting jobs with escort services, adult book/video stores, massage parlors, and strip clubs.”

It would require sponsors to “use particular prudence and caution when dealing with jobs that offer legitimate

employment but also have been known to be associated with human trafficking, suchas janitorial service,housekeeping and modelingagencies.”

There’s also a provision aimed at protecting American workers, “such as a moreprecise definition of temporaryseasonal employment and abar against SWT jobplacements during layoffs or lockouts.”

The memo said the rules would be made public around March. The State Department declined to comment on Tuesday.

The companies the State Department designated asofficial sponsors – which charge up to several thousand

dollars to arrange visas and jobs for the participants – objected to less significant changes made last year and to the anticipated newrestrictions.

“They have told us they are taking these complaints to Congress, though we have yet to see any indication of congressional support for their position,” the memo said. “Notwithstanding thesepotential criticisms, we think a solid case can be made that these changes are needed and that some are needed urgently.”