J1 visa abuse
US IMMIGRATION NOTES - Atty. Marco F.G. Tomakin (The Freeman) - December 15, 2019 - 12:00am

This week, I received several calls from our fellow Filipinos who felt aggrieved by how they are treated by their sponsoring employers. Here are two cases:

George graduated with a degree in Hospitality and Restaurant Management at a local college in the Philippines. He worked as a receptionist at a local beach resort, earning only minimum wage and his share of the service charge. He learned that for him to be employed at more prestigious hotels, he has to obtain certificates of continuing education and training in the hospitality industry. He found an agency that could connect him with a sponsoring employer in the US to give him further training using J1 visa. He paid the agency more than $6,000 which he loaned from relatives and friends. The contract expressly states for a training plan to be faithfully followed including 32 training hours and $1,300 monthly stipend.

When he reached the US, he was sent to his sponsoring employer. To his utter surprise, except for some brief introductions with his managers, there was no formal orientation. Along with his other trainees, they were ordered to work as servers, waiters, and receptionists. When they received their supposed stipend for the first month, it wasn’t the $1,300 as agreed. As months went on, they kept on working, even doing double shifts starting from mid-morning until past midnight. Aside from terrible work hours, he also experienced discrimination, poor living conditions, with no health insurance and other benefits.

Alice was a public school teacher in Mindanao. She heard that an agency could help her find a teaching job in Arizona using J1 visa. She sold everything she had and borrowed money to pay the fees to land that job. She was assured that once she is in the US, she will be petitioned for a greencard and that there would be no problem getting a waiver from the Philippine government for the two-year residency requirement.

Near the expiration of her visa, her employer told her that her greencard petition will not be filed because the Philippine government will not sign a waiver for the two-year residency requirement. She protested that the assurance of a greencard petition was one of the reasons she paid P1 million. Now she has no choice but to go back to the Philippines - with no greencard and a lifetime to pay her debt.

George and Alice represent the hundreds if not the thousands of foreigners exploited by US employers using J1 visa. I’ve heard similar stories from others lured with J1 visas only to be employed as strippers and construction workers. The US government is aware of this but there seems to be no end to this widespread abuse.

I’m more concerned with the plight of Filipinos like George and Alice. They are determined to tell their stories, they deserve the support from the Philippine government to bring justice not only their cases but also those of countless other Filipinos.


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