Hundreds of foreign students on a State Department cultural exchange visa program walked off their factory jobs in protest on Wednesday.
The J-1 visa program brings foreign students to the country to work for two months and learn English, and was designed in part to fill seasonal tourism jobs at resorts and seaside towns. The 400 students employed at a Pennsylvania factory that packages Hershey's candies told The New York Times that even though they make $8.35 an hour, their rent and program fees are deducted from their paychecks, leaving them with less money than they spent to get the visas and travel to the country in the first place.
Some of the students were assigned night shifts, and said they were pressured to work faster and faster on the factory lines.
Hershey's said they didn't hire the students when the Times asked:
A spokesman for Hershey's, Kirk Saville, said the chocolate company did not directly operate the Palmyra packing plant, which is managed by a company called Exel. A spokeswoman for Exel said it had found the student workers through another staffing company.
Last December, the AP revealed that federal immigration officials were investigating two human-trafficking abuse cases related to J-1 visas. Strip clubs openly solicited J-1 visa holders in job listings, and some foreign students told the AP they were forced into sexual slavery when their passports were confiscated by a ring of criminals. About 150,000 J-1 visas were given out in 2008. Businesses save about 8 percent by using a foreign worker because of Social Security and other taxes they do not have to pay.