SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Cheap Labor as Cultural Exchange


December 20, 2011
Tuesday AM

(SitNews) - Earlier this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered an “extensive and thorough review” of the State Department’s troubled Summer Work Travel (SWT) program, which every year brings more than 100,000 college students from around the world to fill low-wage seasonal jobs at fish processing plants in Alaska, national parks, and other locations around the United States.

The ordered "extensive and thorough review" followed last summer's protests by students working at a Hershey Co. warehouse in Pennsylvania that garnered worldwide attention.

Last week the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) began an online publication of a four-day investigative series on the program. The report, “Cheap Labor as Cultural Exchange: The $100 Million Work Travel Industry ”, is based on five months of reporting by CIS senior research fellow and Pulitzer Prize-winning former journalist Jerry Kammer. Part Three of the series, "In Alaska, Fish Sliming as Cultural Exchange", addresses the story of SWT in Alaska, where some 2,000 "cultural exchange" workers take seafood industry jobs that used to be magnets for American college students as well as local hires.

Every year SWT provides J-1 visas to more than 100,000 college students from around the world, allowing them to work for three months in the U.S. and take an additional month to travel. Because they pay an average of about $1,100 in fees to the private organizations that sponsor their participation in the program, the program generates well over $100 million in annual revenues for those organizations. They pay many millions more in visa fees to the State Department and in travel expenses to and from the U.S.

The four-part series tells the story of the SWT program’s rapid growth over the past 15 years into a $100 million international industry that has spread around the globe. SWT is emblematic of a larger problem with the nation’s immigration system, where new programs are created and allowed to expand significantly without giving careful consideration to their impact on the labor market or the larger American society.

The report “Declining Summer Employment Among American Youths ” was also released by CIS Director of Research Steven Camarota. The report finds that fewer than half of native-born Americans ages 16 to 24 worked in the summer of 2011, down from nearly two-thirds in 2000. This decline began long before the current recession and very little of it can be ascribed to summer school or internships. Competition from foreign workers, both permanent and temporary (including through the SWT program), accounts for a significant share of this decline.

The past year has been particularly turbulent for SWT. When the State Department issued new regulations in the spring, it acknowledged that some sponsors were neglecting their duties and that the existing regulations “do not sufficiently protect national security interests, the Department’s reputation, and the health, safety and welfare of Summer Work Travel program participants.” In short, the program had been infected by many abuses, leaving some participants defrauded and allowing others to be recruited by organized crime or strip club owners.

Last summer, Stanley Colvin, the State Department official who long directed SWT and other exchange programs, was quietly replaced. Then the Hershey protest brought global notoriety to the program. In November, the U.S. State Department, which had long promoted expansion of the program around the world, announced a freeze on participants at the 2011 level of 103,000. Then came Secretary Clinton’s call for an internal investigation.

Kammer, a former investigative reporter, tells the story of the State Department’s inability to establish proper management of SWT despite years of criticism by the Government Accountability Office and State’s own Inspector General.

Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews

On the Web:

Read the four-part series: Cheap Labor as Cultural Exchange

Part One: The Globalization of the Summer Job. The story of SWT’s role in international diplomacy and of the intense, sophisticated, and lucrative recruitment both of the students whose fees fuel the industry and the employers who provide the jobs. - More....

Part Two: Young Americans "Don't Know How the System Works". The story of young Americans displaced by SWT, which uses international job fairs to line up summer workers months in advance. A second story tells of the culture clash at Hershey, where the legend of a benevolent chocolate baron met the harsh reality of SWT. - More...

Part Three: SWT in Alaska: Fish Sliming as Cultural Exchange. The story of SWT in Alaska, where some 2,000 "cultural exchange" workers take jobs that used to be magnets for American college students, including 1969 Wellesley graduate Hillary Rodham, now overseeing SWT as Secretary of State.

Part Four: "A Cavalier Attitude": The State Department's Legacy of SWT Failure. The story of the State Department’s long history of mismanagement of SWT, including its indifference to its effects on American workers. Included is an interview with Rick Ruth, the State Department’s new man in charge of SWT.


Source of News: 

Center for Immigration Studies

The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent research institute that examines the impact of immigration on the United States



E-mail your news & photos to

Publish A Letter in SitNews         Read Letters/Opinions

Contact the Editor

SitNews ©2011
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

 Articles & photographs that appear in SitNews may be protected by copyright and may not be reprinted without written permission from and payment of any required fees to the proper sources.