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White House Looking at Job Protections for Exchange Visitors (1)

Aug. 9, 2019, 3:53 PMUpdated: Aug. 9, 2019, 6:46 PM

Regulations to overhaul the J-1 Summer Work Travel program may soon be on the horizon, as the White House is reviewing both a final and a proposed regulation from the State Department.

The first change (RIN:1400-AD14) is the finalized version of a proposed rule issued in January 2017 that built on earlier interim regulations. The State Department had issued those rules to bolster worker protections in response to a 2011 protest by some 400 SWT participants over their working conditions at a Hershey facility in Palmyra, Pa.

The second is a new proposed rule (RIN:1400-AE92) that hasn’t previously appeared in the agency’s regulatory agenda.

Both regulations were sent to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the White House Office of Management and Budget Aug. 8, a little over a week after a group advocating on behalf of SWT participants revealed new information about where the working students are placed.

The Walt Disney Co. and McDonald’s Corp. were among the top employers for SWT participants in 2015, the year for which the International Labor Recruitment Working Group was able to obtain the data. Food Lion and Xanterra Parks and Resorts, a concessions management company that provides services at national parks such as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Mount Rushmore, were also top employers in the summer program.

The State Department can’t comment on the content or timing of proposed regulations, an agency official said. “However, the Department attempts to complete regulations as expeditiously as possible,” the official said in an email.

Largest Exchange Program

The SWT program is the largest of 14 cultural exchanges run by the State Department. In 2018, there were 104,512 SWT participants spread out across all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, according to agency data.

The program is billed as an opportunity for college and university students to come to the U.S. during their summer breaks and experience U.S. culture. Participants are allowed to work to offset living expenses.

Advocates say the program lacks appropriate safeguards, creating situations in which participants are overworked, underpaid, and vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Cynthia Harasty at charasty@bloomberglaw.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com