August 24, 2011

J-1 visas: Not doing jobs Americans would do

Jennifer Gordon writes in an op-ed in the NYT about that amusing strike at the Hershey factory by foreign students who thought they were signing up for fun in the sun and got stuck lifting cases of candy on the late shift in Nowheresville, PA:
The J-1 visa, also known as the exchange visitor visa, has its roots in the cold war. In 1961, Congress created a program for international students and professionals to travel here, with the goal of building good will for the United States in the fight against Communism. The program, which became the J-1 visa, thrives today — but not as Congress intended. 
Instead, it has become the country’s largest guest worker program. Its “summer work travel” component recruits well over 100,000 international students a year to do menial jobs at dairy farms, resorts and factories — a privilege for which the Hershey’s students shelled out between $3,000 and $6,000. They received $8 an hour, but after fees and deductions, including overpriced rent for crowded housing, they netted between $1 and $3.50 an hour. Hershey’s once had its own unionized workers packing its candy bars, starting at $18 to $30 an hour. Now the company outsources distribution to a non-union company that hires most of its workers from the J-1 program. 
The Pennsylvania workers are not alone. Recent exposés by journalists and advocates have found similar abuse of J-1 visa holders at fast food restaurants, amusement parks and even strip clubs. 
Though the number of J-1 visa holders admitted to the United States swelled from 28,000 in the program’s first year to more than 350,000 in 2010, and the government made minor changes to the program earlier this year, the State Department has never established a sufficient oversight system. Instead, it hands that responsibility to organizations it designates as sponsors, who profit from the arrangement and so have no incentive to report abuses.

Why, after three years of high unemployment with no end in sight, hasn't this program been suspended for the duration of the slump? 

There are a whole bunch of unemployed American citizens with two-digit IQs who wouldn't mind these jobs (although not at $1.00 to $3.50 per hour), but Two Digit Americans are almost completely unrepresented by anybody in modern American life. When I hear sophisticated folk go on and on about how they are "cosmopolitan" and thus don't care about invisible lines on the ground or how, as Bill Clinton said on 9/10/2001: "the world will be a better place if all borders are eliminated," by this point I realize that, in practice, what all that high talk comes down to is somebody who is good with an Excel spreadsheet getting the better of a bunch of their fellow citizens who aren't.

37 comments:

NOTA said...

Actually, why did this program ever make sense? I get why we might want to bring promising young foreigners here to live and study for a couple years, or promising foreign scientists to come do research here, or even smart foreign programmers or doctors here to work. But what good objective could possibly be achieved by a program to bring foreign students over here for a few months of underpaid sweatshop labor? How could that ever make any sense at all? What do the citizens of the US get out of such a program?

Anonymous said...

I was completely unaware that you liked unions who would of course be looking out for the interests of below average IQ Americans.

Anonymous said...

Nothing says "good will" like packing fudge for a dollar an hour.

Anonymous said...

I have lived on the Arabian peninsula for ten years. The nascent,i.e.still being born, jihadi movement in Saudi Arabia is so nascent that I have never encountered its members. Yes, there were terrorist attacks here in 2002, but the government has killed the terrorists into quiescence. The government is so corrupt that ordinary Saudis refer to the king as "Father Abdulla." Why? In the small city where I live, the king had the entire section of the city where the poorest Saudis lived leveled to the ground. The thousands made homeless were given new modern homes free by his majesty. Father Abdullah has open dozens of special technical colleges for the poorest Saudis and the students are paid a substantial monthly stipend. His majesty has opened numerous new universities around the country for males and females.His majesty provides the necessary funds for poor Saudis to give to their fiancées as a precondition for marriages. Any Saudi can get a no interest loan to build a new house. Non-Saudis are not permitted to own real property in the kingdom. To obtain Saudi citizenship is almost impossible.The "corrupt" monarchies in Oman and the U.A.E. act in similar ways.

Robert in Arabia

Anonymous said...

J-1 is for academia what H-1B visa is for industry - a way to bring in cheap labor. Not sure about national statistics but where I am a good half of all postdoctoral fellows are foreigners on J-1. It started with Chinese about 20-25 years ago and accelerated with the dissolution of Warsaw block. These plentiful and reasonably competent J-1 researchers quickly brought pay and job prestige to rock bottom, ensuring that the job prospects in science are abysmal for vast majority entering. The end result: most smart American kids no longer consider science a dependable occupation. This progressively necessitates hiring more competent foreigners. Say hello to the positive feedback loop!

Anonymous said...

Two digit IQ Americans had a voice in American society for a short few decades.

Then rich people decided:

a) They were tired of paying people $18 an hour to pack candy bars

b) Low-IQ immigrants are less surly and more deserving than low-IQ Americans. Isn't Mexico just like Rwanda? Those poor refugees!

Anyone who tries to stop their scheme to crush American labor is a racist commie. Isn't 21st century America grand?

Anonymous said...

now, you are a leftist, steve, trying to support the desires of the majority.

The problem is that this federal union is beyond the control of the populace. Why? Because there is little unity among the populace. There is no united majority bloc. The white majority is just barely a majority, and that majority has been split by the two parties gop and dem.

Anonymous said...

I was completely unaware that you liked unions who would of course be looking out for the interests of below average IQ Americans.

American unions no longer care about the citizenship or legal status of those they represent. Locals made up entirely of illegal aliens pay dues too.

Chicago said...

Thanks for the Clinton quote; it reminds us once again of the kind of crap we've had inhabiting the White House.
If the program were to be suspended for the duration of the slump then it would probably just cease to exist. The so-called "slump" may be the new permanent reality and not an aberration as most people like to view it. From where would an economic revival come from? I can't see anything out there nor do I see any capability on the part of the political class to do very much besides letting it all slide.
The program started as a cold war propaganda tool and ends up as just another class warfare weapon with which to screw folks. Seems symbolic although in what way I'm not sure.

Paul Mendez said...

The Delaware/Maryland beach resorts use a lot of J-1 visa holders. I am told that it is because European students have longer summer vacations, so they can start earlier in the season and work through the end. American students, restaurant owners tell me, not only can't start as early, but want to take a few weeks off before going back to school, which is the peak season.

Of course, Baltimore is much closer than Bulgaria and there are many unemployed youths in Baltimore that don't go to school at all. But, for some reason, the restaurant and hotel owners don't see this as an option...

beowulf said...

Meanwhile Australia just bumped its minimum wage to US$16.25/hr (A$15.51), unemployment rate is 5.1% and as one would expect. They provide universal Medicare for every citizen. Australia takes it to the next level with a Social Security system so broad in scope that it must be seen to be believed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Security_%28Australia%29
What IS surprising-- Australia spends less on govt sector(34.3% of Aus GDP) than we do (38% of US GDP). In movie terms, its like Australia is Another Earth where the politicians don't work overtime to screw over its citizens.

John Mansfield said...

A couple years back skiing in Colorado, I was surprised that most of the young folks running the lifts and the rental shop were from odd places like Chile and the Czech Republic instead of being standard American ski bums. This explains that a bit.

Ed said...

" I get why we might want to bring promising young foreigners here to live and study for a couple years, or promising foreign scientists to come do research here, or even smart foreign programmers or doctors here to work."

It sounds like the program was intended to do exactly this, then was corrupted into another imported sweatshop labor program.

Chief Seattle said...

The oddest part of the J-1 program is seeing them working in huge numbers at national parks. The lodges in Glacier were crewed almost exclusively by Chinese, Eastern Europeans and a few Africans. You would think that those jobs would be cherries for a typical 18-19 year old, assuming they paid minimum wage. Working the summer while staying in a place of natural splendor with a bunch of other young people sounds about as good as it gets. Apparently Aramark and its congressional representatives think otherwise.

Mannerheim said...

Ending a program like this would likely give a palpable bump to employment, earning goodwill and improving the prospects for whatever politician proposed it, yet the tragic hilarity is that that isn't enough. Politicians aren't necessarily just shills trying to get re-elected, they're perfectly capable of betraying their constituents' stated preferences for the sake of their own prejudices or to try not to be "on the wrong side of history" (like the RINO's who voted for homosexual "marriage" in NY)

Jack Aubrey said...

"They were tired of paying people $18 an hour to pack candy bars"

Agreed, but it is entirely possible to outsource to companies hiring Americans. Unskilled workers have no right to demand $18an hour for $9 an hour work, but neither do businessmen have the right to give your country away to foreigners.

jody said...

as i work on, and observe, the coming robot age, this stuff is going to get bad. lots of these labor functions are gonna be replaced, leaving huge swaths of society unemployed.

some of these new robots coming out of swizterland and austria and germany are the vanguard of a new era. that new ABB assembly line robot...what happens when those things are replacing line workers everywhere?

this new bionic hand made by otto bock, that's some freaky stuff, even to me.

Anonymous said...

Steve, your critique maybe be a bit off.

One doesn't actually want two digit IQ Americans to "have a voice" or "be represented". That's Idiocracy.

You want a society with very, very few two digit IQ people of any ethnicity having any say in the political process. They should simply follow the good example set by people with three digit IQs.

Unfortunately for us, certain people with three digit IQs are set on making everyone emulate the mannerisms of those with two digit IQs, rather than vice versa.

Anonymous said...

You have to be pretty dense not to detect Steve's sympathy for unions.

Jack Aubrey said...

"Ending a program like this would likely give a palpable bump to employment"

Getting the unemployment rate down is Obama's only hope for re-election. My guess is that 4 years is enough for him, and that he wants to enjoy the perks of superwealth without the responsibilities of the presidency. Reducing immigration and enforcing the law would hurt his chances of multi-million dollar post-presidential payouts for "speeches" and board memberships, etc.

Right now there are ~160 million people in the U.S. labor market. Boost employment by ~2 million and you get an unemployment rate less than 8%. That number of positions could be entirely found by reducing the pool of illegal immigrants & temporary foreign workers.

We have ~7 million illegals working in the US right now. We've taken in ~2 million working age immigrants since Obama became president. If there were 4 million fewer low-to-medium skilled immigrants in the US we would, as of right now, have an unemployment rate below 7%, a lower deficit, and fewer government expenditures, all without significant reductions in consumer demand. In fact, if government deficits and the unemployment rate were lower, Americans would have more confidence in the economy so demand would probably increase.

But Obama has not chosen that route, and it was pretty obvious from the beginning he had no intention to.

Anonymous said...

At this point, nothing our government does surprises me.

I just hope there is a special very hot place in hell for all these people that do this to us.

Anonymous said...

Anybody that quotes Bill Clinton should be stripped of their citizenship.

Anonymous said...

You need to understand that the rich/powerful are (and always have been) conducting class warfare 24/7. The goal never changes: cheap labor and lower taxes on the rich. More money for them, less for us.

Open borders = cheap labor & higher rents. Free trade = cheap labor. Deregulation = public losses, private profit. No unions = cheap labor.

Fortunately for the rich, most people are dumb as rocks.

Anonymous said...

Here's a video made by an activist support group covering the Hershey's foreign student worker situation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-h8EBP0JSs

It begins with some amusing quotes from the foreign students about what they had in mind and were looking forward to:

"I hope I will see America like in movies."

"I want to improve my English."

"Make barbecues."

"Maybe I will learn to play baseball."

It's funny that here we have an iconic American company and product, in Hershey, PA where the factory and amusement park have a turn of the century, Americana, classic American state fair, theme and motif, and foreign students with visions of a classic America created by Hollywood in their heads, juxtaposed with the increasing reality of a contemporary America of cheap foreign labor, not having to speak English, scams, etc.

Rock said...

Anonymous at 12:03am, 8/25 - "Nothing says 'good will' like packing fudge for a dollar an hour."

Many fudge-packers work for free.

Anonymous said...

Boost employment by ~2 million and you get an unemployment rate less than 8%. That number of positions could be entirely found by reducing the pool of illegal immigrants & temporary foreign workers.

Hire more people to enforce immigration controls and its a win/win!

Anonymous said...

Many fudge-packers work for free.

And some will even pay for the chance to do that kind of work.

Anonymous said...

Hat's off to the NYTimes for even printing this. It could potentially be seen as anti-immigrant, which, I'm sure, is the worst thing in the world to them.

Anonymous said...

"What do the citizens of the US get out of such a program?"

Cheaper Hershey bars. And I like Hershey bars. Seriously, as long as these people go home after the summer, I don't see much problem with it.

Anonymous said...

Cheaper Hershey bars. And I like Hershey bars. Seriously, as long as these people go home after the summer, I don't see much problem with it.

You're assuming the lower labor cost translates to lower prices rather than being captured as rent by the company.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, as long as these people go home

Huge assumption buddy.

Steve Johnson said...

Hershey’s once had its own unionized workers packing its candy bars, starting at $18 to $30 an hour. Now the company outsources distribution to a non-union company that hires most of its workers from the J-1 program.

See, this is how the left wins (and has won).

They set up the laws in the first place so their clients, union members, can extract extortionist wages using literally extortionist tactics.

Business that require labor can't operate under these conditions so they seek alternatives. The left helpfully encourages them to use non-American labor. Result? New government dependents (the immigrants and the businesses).

Unions aren't the answer - they were the first part of the problem.

Peter A said...

Seems to me that politically Steve is closer to a Truman/JFK Democrat. A political ideology that unfortunately is represented by no political party or politician in modern America. Today we have the GOP that defends the power of the manufacturing, extraction industry, big agriculture and military elites, and the Democrats who defend the interests of lawyers, academics, software and entertaiment elites. And both parties work for Wall Street. Anyone else can apparently go get stuffed.

Maya said...

Though I agree that immigration must be a lot more controlled, and that American employers should hire Americans, I don't think the J-1 resort/candy workers are an example of the elites screwing their population.

I am American, and I've worked at some of these cool resorts (an upscale lodge in Alaska and a skiing resort in Utah). It was great! Half of the workers were American and the other half- J-1ers. Lots of the American kids like me came only for half a season because of school and other commitments. That was fine. A lot of American universities start early and let out early, and a lot start late and let out late. Split season employment is always available.
I found these jobs and applied through www.coolworks.com. It was easy, and i was hired quickly through a phone interview. Yeah, we had to pay room and board while staying there- $17/day, but the resulting pay wasn't $3/hour. That's just laughable. Firstly, every resort where I and my friends had worked (they worked at Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Cape Cod and on cruises) had offered, more like required, overtime. I was paid 8.50/hour, and worked 55 hours/week, on average. Then, many of these jobs come with tips. Also, most seasonal resort jobs that charge room and board also offer bonus pay for those who stayed their entire contracts. Apparently, some people get homesick and just leave.
So in conclusion... people who don't work these jobs are the ones who simply don't want to. Our dishwasher at one resort was an honest to god schitzo. A lot of people were alcoholics and had to be fired for showing up to work drunk or not showing up at all. You don't have to be presentable to get these jobs. They can't see you.
I suggested to many young people that whine about the lack of opportunity that they could go see the most beautiful parts of America and earn some extra cash. Most choose not to. My own little sister is going up to Alaska next summer to work as a busser. I was a hostess. I offered myself as a reference to my last year's 18, 19 and 20 year old summer school students, and i showed them how to fill out the online application. None of them applied.

beowulf said...

"Seems to me that politically Steve is closer to a Truman/JFK Democrat."

Nahh, he's a Nixon Republican like we all should be.
http://thenewnixon.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/richard-nixon-sammy-davis-jr.jpg

Tanstaafl said...

"what all that high talk comes down to is somebody who is good with an Excel spreadsheet getting the better of a bunch of their fellow citizens who aren't"

Phew. I thought it might be ethnic warfare. Boy am I relieved you discovered the real issue, and that it has nothing to do with ethnic animus.

Say, you're an Excel expert aren't you?

kingl said...

I live in the area and these warehouse jobs are prevalent. Rents run in the 550 (small studio) to 1100$ range (nice apartment). Most of the people I know who work these jobs would be happy to net 3$/hr. I don't net much more than that and have been at my jobs for five years, with college and ten years experience. Welcome to the new economy,America ins't paved with gold.