They come to experience all America has to offer. They hope to pay their way by working a summer job as they experience a new culture and learn English. They work in our hotels, restaurants, fast-food chains and amusement parks. They work for companies with names synonymous with the United States: McDonald's, Disney, Hilton and more. They're J-1 guest workers. Congress created the program more than 50 years ago "to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange." Foreign youths pay American job placement agencies designated by the Department of State -- called "sponsors" -- to be placed with U.S. employers in jobs that offer cultural exchange opportunities and, for trainees and interns, professional job training.
This report is based on hundreds of interviews with J-1 Summer Work Travel participants and interns and trainees working across the South, primarily in the hospitality industry. These interviews revealed that regardless of the worker's country of origin or whether they participated in the Summer Work Travel Program or the Trainee and Intern Program, the experience is the same.
The J-1 program must return to its original mission of cultural exchange. It also must have mechanisms in place to protect young U.S. workers in the job market. Recommendations for reform are offered at the end of this report.