David Frum

03.14.13

Will Obama Abolish State-Sponsored Serfdom?

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I wrote last week about the scandal of the J-1 "cultural exchange" visa. But as Jerry Kammer of the Center for Immigration Studies enlightens me, I failed to delve into the visa's fully bottomless scandalous depths.

I just finished the first section of Kammer's scathing four-part report on the program. I learned from Kammer that not only does the program offer employers ultra-cheap labor - tax-free - but it also provides them with a nice free overseas vacation as well. And here's the best part: the free vacation is paid for by their future low-wage employees!

President Obama spoke in his State of the Union address about raising the wages of the least-paid workers. Why isn't his first step the abolition of the State Department's outrageous program of state-sponsored serfdom?

For employers, SWT offers an array of benefits. Some like the touch of international flair. All appreciate the access to a large supply of educated workers willing to work at close to minimum wage. The tax benefits are also attractive. Employers need not worry about health insurance since SWT participants are required to buy their own. And the program offers liberation from the difficult tasks of recruiting workers by ones and twos. …

While the sponsors and agencies collect handsome fees from SWT participants, they offer their services to employers for free. “What does it cost to use our service?” asks New York-based InterExchange. “Nothing. As a non-profit organization promoting cultural exchange, our goal is to find exceptional staff for your business, and to help international students experience life in the United States.” …

Many [sponsoring organizations] offer recruiting trips to Europe, Asia, and South America so employers can interview prospective SWT employees and sign them up on the spot.

Consider Chicago-based CCI, which declares that its mission is “the promotion of cultural understanding, academic development, environmental consciousness, and world peace.”30 In the fiercely competitive business of SWT sponsorship, CCI offers packages to employers to “travel to exciting destinations in Brazil and Argentina to interview pre-screened applicants.” For employers who hire a certain number of workers through CCI, the trips are free.31