Here’s the latest on the scandalous story about the Hershey Company and its abuse of the J-1 visa. As reported last week, the Hershey Company used about 400 J-1 visa holders, supposedly on a “cultural exchange program,” to work in its warehouses, lift 50 pound crates for long hours while earning a $6-$8 hourly wage. The story made national headlines when the Hershey workers, also foreign-born students from Romania, Nigeria, China, Ukraine and Poland walked off their jobs and staged public demonstrations.
Since the story first broke, the Department of Labor and the State Department which oversees the issuance of visas have opened investigations. [US Checks Conditions for Workers in Walk Out, by Julia Preston, New York Times, August 25, 2011]
The investigation should begin with the answer to a simple question: What enabled the students to get to Hershey? The answer is the J-1 visa which like all other non-immigrant visas is wide open to fraud. In fact, the J-1 invites abuse. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, J-1 visas can be used for purposes as vague as “observing” or “studying”.
Hershey is backing away from the publicity as fast as it can. In an effort to appear like the incident is just a big misunderstanding and that the company is really a concerned employer, Hershey has offered one week of paid vacation to the striking workers so they can sightsee, the original intention of their trip.
These Hershey warehouse jobs, and similar jobs handed out under the guise of “cultural exchange” should go to either unemployed adult Americans or teenagers who need summer jobs.
Speaking of teenagers in search of employment, the Wall Street Journal had a blog item on August 25 which confirms that a smaller share of young people got summer jobs this year than any other year dating back to 1948. Many young potential workers have simply given up their search.
According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the share of young adults either working or reporting that they were looking for work fell to 59.5 percent in July, the lowest rate on record and down one point from last year. [With Jobs Elusive, Young Workers Quit Looking, by Sara Murray, Wall Street Journal, August 24, 2011]
And for those who may think giving jobs to foreign students when Americans are shut out is inconsequential, economists predict that young workers who enter the workforce during a downturn are scarred by their unpleasant experience for years. Both their chances of finding employment and the wages they earn if they do work are lower than they would have been had they come of age in a strong economy.