Thursday, October 6, 2011

The unhappiest place on earth?

NPR has an excellent report out on J visas:

“You have 300,000 workers come to the US and they’re just lacking in protections,” Costa said. “Workplace protections, wage protections and we’ve see complaints where employers have been threatening people who complain about their work conditions with deportation.”

In fact, it’s even worse than that. In recent years, J1 workers have reported that their stays in the US were characterized by menial jobs, low wages, filthy living conditions, and a lot of economic exploitation.

J1 workers apply for the program and then pay between $3,000 and $6,000 to a sponsoring organization, accredited by the State Department. The sponsor organization places them with American companies. One of the biggest J1 employers is Disneyland.

“They work on rides, quick service food and beverage, housekeeping, parking attendants, merchandising, lifeguards, dispatch, and most importantly showkeepers- those are the janitors,” said Kit Jonson, a law professor at the University of North Dakota.

Jonson’s been researching the J1 labor force and says it’s become a very clever business strategy for American companies. They save on wages, state and federal taxes, healthcare, housing and pension plans.”

“For Disney those figures end up being really stunning,” Jonson said. “Disney’s saving in wages alone upwards of $18.2 million a year in hiring international workers. So international students are simply a lot cheaper than American labor.”

Both Kit Johnson and Daniel Costa say that especially now, when unemployment is so high, these jobs should be filled by local workers. But J1 workers are more attractive because on top of the cost savings, they’re less likely to put up a fuss. If they do, they’re easy to get rid of. Like a group of J1’s from Russia who came to work as lifeguards in Texas, and ended up begging in the streets when they weren’t paid.

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