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Feds to Review Au Pair Program in Wake of Human Trafficking Bust

Feds to Review Student Visa Program in Wake of Human Trafficking Bust

December 2011 - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week ordered a review of the J-1 student work visa program after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents found the visa was being used for human trafficking.  (Associated Press, Dec. 7, 2011)  

On November 30, federal agents in New York arrested 25 mafia members from several families for illegally bringing in hundreds of women from Russia and Eastern Europe to the U.S. to dance and strip in New York clubs. (NY1, Nov. 30, 2011)

Homeland Security officials accused some of the suspects of helping the women obtain fraudulent work and travel visas. However, when the women got into the country, they were employed as strippers. (Id.) “Some were recruited as waitresses, some were told straight up what the situation was. Some were recruited from overseas through advertisements in foreign language newspapers throughout Russia and Eastern Europe, some were recruited from Facebook in Russia,” said James Hayes of the Department of Homeland Security. (Id.

Officials accused five men from Albany, Binghamton, and New Jersey of illegally marrying some of the women so that those women could apply for green cards to stay in the country. (Id.)

The J-1 visa was created in 1963 to allow students and au pairs from other countries to temporarily work and travel in the US.  (Associated Press, Dec. 7, 2011)  According to the State Department, “The J-1 Visa provides countless opportunities for international candidates looking to travel and gain experience in the United States.” The J-1 visa is known for allowing foreign nationals to enter the U.S. through various programs—as high school or college students, professors or scholars, Au Pairs and interns, among other things.  Depending on the program, these aliens may stay in the U.S. for periods ranging from a few weeks to several years.   (State Department, J-1 Visa Programs)  

The J-1 visa program currently brings in more than 100,000 individuals per year to the U.S. (Associated Press, Dec. 2011) - of these, about 25,000 are au pairs.

The State Department’s order to review the program comes only weeks after it proposed new regulations for the “Summer Work Travel” program within the J-1 visa category and just months after other revisions took effect.  (Federal Register 68808, Nov. 7, 2011) (Id.)  According to the State Department, the rules were intended to address persistent reports of abuse: “The number of program complaints received this year continues to remain unacceptably high and includes, among other issues, reports of improper work placements, fraudulent job offers, job cancelations upon participant arrival in the United States, inappropriate work hours, and problems regarding housing and transportation.”  The proposed rules from the State Department cap Summer Work Travel program participants to 2011 levels and place a moratorium on new sponsors within the program. (Associated Press, Nov. 7, 2011)

In addition to the potential for fraud in the J-1 program, it also has the potential to undermine U.S. workers. Employers who hire a J-1 worker over an American worker save eight percent because the employers don’t have to pay Medicare, Social Security and unemployment taxes. (Id.)  In addition, because the J-1 program requires participants to have health insurance before they arrive, employers do not have to bear that cost either. Many businesses say they need these J-1 workers to meet the demands of tourist season. 

Read Recent Story of German Au Pair Sexually Abused by Host Father Sues Au Pair USA, an American au pair agency that placed the 18 year old in this host family. Au Pair USA continues to deny all charges that they were aware of other au pairs who had similar complaints about this particular host father. 

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