Aug 11, 2011 1:31 PM by AP Posted by James H Egbert

Udall questions visa program for foreign workers

DENVER (AP) - Sen. Mark Udall is asking Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to end misuse of a visa program that has placed more than 350,000 foreign workers in U.S. jobs, which critics say comes at the expense of American workers.

The visa program was created as a way to enhance diplomatic ties abroad by promoting cultural and educational exchange, but it has been used heavily in Colorado to bring seasonal workers to resorts in the ski season and farms in the summer.

According to the Denver Post, Colorado leads the country in numbers of foreign students working on J-1 visas that allow them to fill seasonal jobs for four-month periods.

"I hope we can work together to maintain the true intent of the Exchange Visitor Program as an educational and cultural exchange that can serve as an important diplomatic tool while also protecting the interests of American workers," Udall said in his letter to Clinton this week.

The J visa visitors program has 16 classes of visas. Its participants are employed in a wide variety of occupations, including au pair work, farm labor and seasonal jobs at national parks, resorts, hotels and restaurants.

The program's usefulness was questioned in a 2000 inspector general's report, and a 2005 Government Accountability Office report cited continuing problems.

Those reports and another by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank, found that 13 officers in the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs could not oversee more than 350,000 exchange workers.

Companies hiring foreign workers under the program are allowed to pay them lower wages than those earned by U.S. workers. They also don't have to pay Social Security, Medicare, federal and state unemployment taxes or health care costs for the foreign workers.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)



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