In the various agreements being floated on comprehensive immigration reform, almost all seek to expand guest worker programs citing "shortages" in high tech areas and also low skilled areas. I have written before about the fact that temporary workers are seldom really temporary and that I believe that an unholy alliance of labor unions and businesses are signing on to the concept of expanding temporary worker programs. Here is a recent case of an abuse of a temporary worker program. According to the State Department, "The Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa category is for individualsapproved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs. Participants are integral to the success of the program." This program has been used to bring in scholars, physicians. Au Pairs, camp counselors, teachers, and trainees. The goal is supposed to be cultural exchange.
So one has to wonder exactly what kind of cultural exchange is going on when a young foreign student is brought in to work at a McDonalds restaurant, a chain that has over 32,700 locations around the world. Exactly what culturally enrichment is one getting by working at a McDonald's after you yourself have paid $3,000 for that privilege? A labor rights group has filed a complaint in Pennsylvania accusing the owner of 6 MacDonald's franchises of abusing their foreign workers who had each paid $3000 to work inconsistent hours, for low wages, and living in "crowded, overpriced apartments". Here are the students demanding justice.
"The managers let us know, that they could make a phone call [to the Dept. of Homeland Security], if we do not do as they tell." It is never a good idea to tie one's legal immigration status to employment. It creates a power differential between the U.S. employer and their foreign employees. But in this case, perhaps the J-1 did indirectly serve its cultural exchange purpose by acculturating the foreign students to the United States' guarantee of freedom of assembly and protest and using the media to gain back wages from an abusive employer. Somehow I don't think that's what the framers of the J-1 visa intended.