Nat’l orgs to Sec’y Clinton: We need real review of J-1 program

Last year, student guestworkers at the Hershey’s packing plant held a factory occupation — and made the pages of the New York Times, Newsweek, and The Washington Post. They exposed how a major corporation and its subcontractors and recruiters turned the State Department’s J-1 cultural exchange program into a nation’s largest temporary worker program, sourcing captive student workers to the 1% — while destroying living wage jobs for local workers.

As a result of the Justice@Hershey’s campaign, led by the National Guestworker Alliance, the State Department announced at the end of the year that it would overhaul the J-1 visa program. If you are one of the 300,000 people who watched the students’ videos on YouTube, or the 71,000 who signed the students’ Change.org petitions, or the 1,000 who marched in Hershey, Pennsylvania, join us in celebrating.

This year, we are renewing our call for action by the U.S. State Department. We are asking, once again, that the State Department shut down Hershey’s recruiter, CETUSA. CETUSA deceived, exploited, and threatened retaliation against hundreds of J-1 student workers at the Hershey’s packing plant. When students organized, CETUSA retaliated on Hershey’s behalf — and went on record in the New York Times defending its actions, saying, “This is America and this is the way we do things here.”

Six months after the students exposed the scheme CETUSA was running for Hershey, CETUSA continues to operate with impunity. A growing number of national immigration and labor advocacy organizations have joined NGA’s call to shut down CETUSA, as the letters below show. We are asking the State Department to send a strong message to the hundreds of recruiters and companies that use the J-1 program: this is not the way we do things in America.

“Serious review of the J-1 program begins with holding recruiters accountable that have profited from the exploitation of J-1 student workers while destroying living wage jobs,” said NGA Legal Director Jennifer J. Rosenbaum. “We renew our call on Secretary Clinton to immediately suspend and revoke CETUSA’s right to issue additional J-1 cultural exchange visas.”

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