Critics say lax J-1 visa rules for foreign students allow for exploitation

J1 Students in Woodside, Queens, New York

Critics of the J-1 program claim that lax rules mean foreign workers are being exploited by U.S. employers.

A case taken against Wyndham Hotel in Orlando claims a dozen Asian students were not paid  minimum wage for their work during a year long J-1 program in which they were supposed to use as an “educational and cultural exchange.”

A similar year-long program has attracted thousands of Irish graduates to the U.S. since it was expanded to Ireland in September 2008. Typically students pay around €1,000 in program fees to agencies in Ireland before arriving in the U.S. to begin their year abroad.

The lawsuit was filed last week with a Florida federal court on behalf of students from Thailand, Vietnam and India,  whose visas allowed them to work within different divisions of at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort, near Orlando reports My Fox Detroit. The complaint claims the students involved paid agencies about $5,500 to join the program, as well as thousands of dollars extra  for airfare and housing.

Vanessa Coe, of Florida Legal Services in Lake Worth, who represents the students involved says  students in the J-1 program often make low wages offering prospective employers a cheap labor alternative.

 “The employers don’t have to give them insurance or other benefits and they get no paid time off,” she told the Palm Beach Post.

“On top of that, the J-1 students can only work for that one employer. If they leave the job they have to leave the country, so they don’t leave. They are at the mercy of the Wyndham.”

“Our guys were promised a certain type of internship but instead were used as housekeepers or line cooks, which was totally different than the experience they paid for," Coe told Fox.

One of the plaintiffs’ involved, Dirakerit Kotchawong graduated with a hotel-management degree and worked as a supervisor in a hotel in Thailand before coming to the U.S.

However he flipped burgers and cooked French fries during his stint working at the Wyndham resort.

“Many students are wasting their money and getting nothing," he said.