Fears over U.S. J-1 Exchange programme

June 05, 2013

Brazilian agency association Belta has joined growing international opposition to elements of a Senate Immigration Bill that threatens to prohibit the collection of fees by sponsors and agents on the U.S. J–1 exchange programme.

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The bill, currently being considered in the Senate, proposes to reclassify exchange visitors as 'workers' and as such would prohibit the collection of any placement or programme fees from participants by sponsors and overseas agents. Sponsors and agents would be classified as 'foreign labor contractors' and would be required to post bonds with the Department of Homeland Security.

In a statement issued on behalf of Belta members, President Carlos Robles said the proposals undermined the principle of increasing mutual understanding in the J–1 scheme, a programme that has been operating for over 50 years.

"Belta recruiting agency members and their sponsoring organisations are not 'Foreign Labor Contractors'. Our members promote cultural exchange programmes that fulfil the intended objectives of the U.S. Government to provide young people with positive experiences that last a lifetime, and encourage personal growth and discovery, new global friendships and improved English language capability, " said Robles.

Disputing the definition of J–1 visitors as 'workers', he said, "Exchange visitors participants are part of a cultural exchange and their goals are different from those of workers on a labour programme." He added that as 'workers' participants would have less oversight and support and be more open to abuse.

Banning the collection of fees would have a huge impact on agency business, said Robles. "The proposed legislation would prevent our companies from collecting fees for services provided, and make it impossible to continue to operate. "

Belta joins the World Youth Student & Educational (WYSE) Travel Confederation in opposing the bill. "If the bill is passed in its present state, it stands to devastate the United States' largest exchange programme, and a vital component of US public diplomacy," said the confederation in a statement.

The Alliance for International and Cultural Exchange, an association including sponsors in the J–1 scheme, outlined the threats to the programme in a statement.

"Without programme revenue, which allows the Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) to operate without appropriated funds, the public-private partnership that drives the programme — and thus the programme itself — will collapse."

The Alliance added that a proposed amendment that would require sponsors to pay US$500 per participant "would severely curtail, if not completely eliminate, the SWT [Summer Work Travel] programme", adding sponsors' revenue per student was well under US$500.

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernisation Act (S.744) is currently being considered by the Senate and covers aspects such as border security, post–study work rights for STEM graduates and accreditation of educational institutions.

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