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J-1 workers are sworn into the IBEW by Local 611 
President Richard Sandoval (not pictured)

Whats the J-1 Program?

January/February 2002 IBEW Journal

About 30,000 people enter the United States under the program as trainees each year, according to a report by the Labor Research Association. The U.S. State Departments J-1 programone of the few visa programs not administered by the Immigration and Naturalization Serviceis 40 years old. Its purpose, according to the law that created it, is to provide foreign nationals with opportunities to participate in educational and cultural programs in the United States and return home to share their experiences. Most are students but other categories of exchange visitors are professors and research scholars, teachers, physicians and au pairs. Those programs continue to operate. The Exchange Visitor Program rules state clearly that it is not a work program and is not meant to staff positions that would otherwise be held by U.S. workers.

In 2000, electricians started coming in through the program with the help of USA-IT and several non-profit sponsoring organizations that are paid between $750 and $1,000 per visa application. Former sponsors YMCA of Greater New York and the Association for International Practical Training have since severed ties to USA-IT but the Cultural Exchange Network, CENET, continues its sponsorship of USA-IT recruits.

USA-IT solicitations sent to companies said the participants are qualified overseas electricians who have many years of experience. A vague disclaimer later in the letter explains that because [these workers] are not familiar with U.S. customs, we call the electricians trainees.

It is a violation of the program to use them as workers, Burke said. Its black and white against the regulations.

Many of the highly skilled workers are put on jobs doing low-cost skilled labor. And the training portion of the cultural training visa does not appear to exist. But USA-IT and the employers who hired the trainees had nothing to worry about once the workers had entered the United States because the State Department has no system of checking up on them.

Integrated Electrical Services, the company whose subsidiaries employed many of the J-1 workers, boasts in a newsletter that in the year 2001 alone, We will save up to $5 million in labor costs by utilizing this program. But that was before the IBEW intervened.

From Shadow to Light