Wednesday, May 9, 2012

J-1 Visa Program Relatively Intact But Puts Restrictions on Hours

A summer work travel program for foreign students that has accommodated the Alaska commercial fishing industry with seasonal labor will remain relatively intact through November, allowing for such employment at Alaska fish processing plants.

The changes put in the J-1 program, however, include some specific restrictions on work hours, stating that these students cannot be put into positions where their work hours will be predominantly from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m.

The 91-page interim final rule, which can be found online at, also states that these jobs must allow participants to interact regularly with American citizens and experience American culture during the work portion of their program. Sponsors are also required to take more active roles in ensuring that the J-1 participants have access to suitable, affordable and safe housing and reliable and affordable transportation between their residences and worksites.

The program was first authorized by the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 and enacted by the 87th Congress on Sept. 21, 1961. Its stated purposed is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange, and to strengthen the ties between nations. In the half-century since the act’s passage, millions of program participants and Americans with whom they have interacted have benefitted, the State Department noted.

Some changes to the J-1 program were made last year, including those requiring sponsors to vet and confirm the validity of all host employers, to fully vet all job offers, and to contact active program participants on a monthly basis to monitor both their welfare and their geographical physical location.

“Over the years seafood processors have come to rely on the J-1 program to fill manpower needs for unskilled jobs not favored by domestic workers,” said Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, in correspondence with the Obama administration. “While the industry recruits locally and around the nation, J-1 students fill as many as half the jobs in some seafood processing plants, especially those in remove areas where there is a limited local workforce.”

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