SWT 2020: Failed public diplomacy


  • US Department of State has alienated thousands of young people around the world and risks alienating thousands more by mismanaging J-1 Summer Work and Travel 2020
  • US Department of State intends to import thousands of foreign workers at times of record high US unemployment (>40 millions)
  • US Department of State is bringing thousands of foreigners from Coronavirus struck countries thereby jeopardizing fragile US economic recovery and putting safety of Americans at risk
  • Covid-19 crisis has exposed fundamental deficiencies in the Summer Work and Travel program and US Department of State’s unwillingness to rectify them.

This article describes the impact of Covid-19 on the swt program. Relevant information comes from Russian speaking swt participants primarily from Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan (some from Poland and Czechia). Although focused on Russia, there is a strong indication that findings from this study can be applied to other swt participating countries. Figure 1 below depicts general swt structure for the reference.

SWT flow chart Roles copy
Figure 1. Key entities involved in Summer Work and Travel Program. Source: GAO


Covid-19 crisis has not only threatened global healthcare and economy but also tested relationships among people. Something that was previously thought as reliable and friendly turned out to be a disillusioning fake. That is a painful disappointment. Coronavirus has also impacted 50-years old J-1 Summer Work and Travel program (SWT) administered by the US Department of State (DoS)[2]. The program, according to the Fulbright-Hays Act aims to improve mutual understanding and foster friendship between United States and rest of the world[1]. However, once envisioned as a beautiful non-commercial public initiative, the program has morphed into a multimillion giant guestworker enterprise.  Although complete discussion of the SWT program is beyond the scope of this article, in these days SWT achieves primarily three objectives:

  1. Secures and delivers cheap bonded labor to American companies, both small mom-and-pop and giant corporations (US Employers).
  2. Earns large profits for “nonprofit” US-based sponsors and their foreign cooperators abroad (Sponsors and Agents).
  3. Serves as an American mouthpiece abroad which unilaterally seeks to improve US image abroad as opposed to fostering mutual friendship as prescribed by the Fulbright-Hays Act (The State).

The SWT program received wide public attention especially in 2011-2016. Multiple reputable US organizations as well as federal inspectors have criticized fundamental deficiencies in it[3-12]. After several iterations however, SWT “reforms” have failed to restructure the program and delivered mostly cosmetic fixes. Covid-19 crisis has reaffirmed ongoing structural problems with the program.

Covid-19 nullified SWT 2020 program fundamentals

A lot has changed since swt recrutment started in 2019. Given recent developments and drastic changes, in this article we aim to reevaluate the swt 2020. As you will see, core premises on which the success of the program is based upon are no longer present.

1. Record high US unemployment

As of May 29, 2020 the number of unemployed Americans have exceeded 40 millions[23]. That official statistics does not include millions of illegal immigrants who have also lost jobs because of Covid-19. The US economy is at recession and facing tough economic recovery. Trump administration to preserve jobs for Americans has even temporary banned immigration[16, 25]. The majority of laid off Americans used to work in service industries (tourism, restaurants, entertainment, etc) –  the very same area where SWT participants typically work. Nonetheless, despite of record high unemployment sponsors are determined to bring thousands of foreign workers in US. American employers are hiring swt students for the reason – companies save thousands of dollars on taxes, lower wages, health insurance and get reliable bonded labor. Employers prior Covid-19 used to cite acute shortage of local workers and “therefore” hired foreign workers through the swt program. But now with millions of unemployed Americans neither US companies nor the State have moral justification to pass American jobs to foreigners. This is absurd – while stressed out Americans line up for free food and flood unemployment offices, sponsors collect millions of dollars from foreign students and provide them with jobs that Americans desperately need.

2. Health and safety concerns

While US and rest of the world is trying to stop the spread of the devastating virus, the DoS, sponsors and employers have a different agenda on mind. Consider for instance Russian participants. Both US and Russia are worst virus hit countries that closed borders and severely limited international flights to contain the virus. Nonetheless, Russian participants since end of May began departing Russian Moscow for American New York – both worst hit cities in respective countries. We know little about the virus and how it spreads but we do know that young people may transmit virus without any signs of being infected. Although some sponsors suggested placing some participants in 2-weeks quarantine once they arrive in US, it is questionable whether it will be sufficient to prevent further spread of the virus in both directions. Next, keep in mind that swt participants are young foreigners unfamiliar with US healthcare system. With no family or friends around swt students can’t relay on limited health insurance. They are not eligible for federal aid either. Worse, swt jobs (housekeeping for instance) exposes students to direct risk of contracting the virus. Given notorious negligence of sponsors to respond to participants’ requests, these students might find themselves in pretty bad situations. Who will take care of students if they get sick?

Trump administration closed border with China when China had about 15k total Covid-19 cases. Sponsors however are eager bring thousands of Russians in US at times when Russia has about 370k of total virus cases[14]. Arriving Russian participants are not even required to be placed in quarantine. Why such a negligence? Sponsors’ irresponsible actions threaten to import and export Covid-19 to and from United States. With no reliable vaccine available sponsors risk to start a second wave of Coronavirus in US with all bad things that comes with it.

Screen Shot 2020-06-12 at 12.58.25 AMHere is another absurd thing about swt 2020. As of May 28, website of US embassy in Moscow [19] and DoS traveling website displays a  warning “Global Level 4 Health Advisory – Do Not Travel” (since March 31, 2020)[20]. It is the highest possible advisory level. “The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19″[20]. Nonetheless, sponsors dispatch thousands  of foreign nationals to US. Why to issue global warning if DoS-designated sponsors do not follow it? Are foreign students different some way from Americans that elevated warning does not apply to them? Why to risk well-being of young immature foreigners?

There are logistical issues also. Many countries around the world cancelled international flights. Russia closed border with all countries and at one point even stoped all repatriating flights. Russian nationals were and still are stuck overseas without being able to return back home. Currently, there are some repatriating flights but they are much more expensive, rare and subject to change [These flights are being used by Russian swt participants with visas to travel in USA. Aeroflot, the flagship carrier, have formally suspended the sale of all international tickets until August. Once repatriating flights are exhausted Russian students will have no means to travel to US. Even if flights do continue whole summer they are limited in capacity and expensive]. What if second virus wave begins and swt participants are left stranded abroad? Like those swt students who were stuck US in March and April [21]. Who will take of them? Who will pay for them?

And there are more safety concerns due to protests taking place in various cities around United States. Recently arrived in NYC Russian students reported being scared to find themselves in hostile environment. Here is one comment from 2020 swt participant:

“… we arrived yesterday, it is somewhat fucked up here in NY. Out of white people we saw single white policeman for a whole day.  There’s nobody in the city center, some suspicious African-Americans, Latinos.  One dude asked “wow, did you come for protest”. In short, you should rather run to your town away from this situation. One African American looked at me for no reason with terrible disgust and hatred. My advice to you, book a hotel at the metro station and sit there”.

And it is not just NYC, smaller tourist cites, where swt participants work and live, had to issue a curfew because of “credible threats”[24]. Beyond safety concerns, exposing young foreigners to marches and other racial confrontations is not particularly a great America PR campaign.

3. Expensive shorter program with lower earning potential

Already ridiculously high price tag for the diplomatic initiative has increased further. SWT program costs ballooned due to postponing and buying elevated air tickets on short notice (50-200% up), replacing cancelled job (up to $350), much higher start-up and reserve money requirements (>$1,200), extra insurance, drugs and other prevention expenses. By the time students arrive to US and start their low paying minimum wage jobs they accumulate large  debt (>~$3,000). With very limited job opportunities beyond the contracted employer, students essentially become a bonded labor for that employer. Therefore vulnerability and risk of abuse and exploitation of students is significantly up.

Next, it is expected that landlords, to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, would mandate less congested living conditions (less roommates or people in the house). Some landlords may even refuse to admit foreign visitors to their properties. This in turn will make housing rent higher or even unavailable. To make things worse, shorter program duration and lower working hours makes it difficult for students to repay program costs. Indeed, wave of job offer cancellations from US employers further illustrates difficulty of securing sufficient working hours for J-1 workers (some students with visa had their job offers cancelled couple days before the departure). Moreover, because of Covid-19 related closures getting a SSN might take unusually long time in already shorter program further reducing earning potential.

But there are more risks involved than just simple inability to make money for students. With ballooned program costs and low earning potential desperate swt participants might be forced to seek alternative ways to recoup program expenses. Young foreigners might be lured by criminals to participate in various frauds (tax, healthcare, money wiring, etc.), forced to engage in unethical activities (strip clubs, escort services, prostitution, etc.)[17]. We have been through this already many times. Remember cash mule scandals when dozens of swt participants stole millions from American accounts[19]? Remember, when students were forced to eat in soup kitchens, work in top-less bars and strip clubs?[3, 4]. But DoS and swt lobby appears to have a short memory. Indeed, who cares about foreigners when millions of dollars are at stake? Of course, “rogue” students can always be blamed but agents, sponsors and DoS will bear no accountability for hardship. With no assurance of financial well-being of swt participants, DoS is putting safety of Americans and foreigners at significant risk.

Unfortunately, vast majority of participants have no means or maturity to comprehend the whole swt picture. Students simply do not know what we described above given agents and sponsors’ everyday “assurances” that program is “fine”. No agent or sponsor talks about 40 millions of unemployed Americans and other potential problems. By concealing true nature of the swt situation agents and sponsors mislead participants and essentially set them up for the failure.

4. No cultural exchange in the cultural exchange program

Recall, after paying thousands of dollars for the “cultural exchange” program participants must pay again out of their pockets to go sightseeing. But with much higher expenses and much lower earning potential, students will have hard times to save money. Usually students explore the country at the end of program but with limited funds it may no longer be possible. It is good if they earn enough money for the return flight which might be unusually expensive.

Moreover, due to nationwide quarantine and other measures aimed to contain the virus spread, students’ activity beyond work will be severely limited. Already ridiculously small cross-cultural opportunities in the cultural exchange program [22] will therefore be reduced even further. Although beyond work cross-cultural activities must be the main aspect of the program, it has been chronically neglected by sponsors for decades. With Covid-19 prevention measures, insufficient cultural exchange opportunities will be reduced to the point of non-existence. So what exactly do students pay thousands dollars for? For a privilege to work at low wage jobs in America without being able to sightsee it?

5. Most of participants do not have visas yet

Because many US consulates and embassies have been closed or work in very limited mode most of prospective swt participants do not even have visas. At this moment it is not known with certainty when swt applicants will be able to obtain visas. Forcing US diplomatic mission to expedite J-1 visa processing may put officers’ health at risk.

So, why to push SWT 2020 execution so hard?

Above listed circumstances lead us to the logical question: Why to put foreign participants, their home countries and Americans at risk? Why to take American jobs? Why to jeopardize US economic and healthcare recovery? Is this trip really so important and necessary? Quick cost-benefit comparison above shows that rewards of conducting swt 2020 is not worth the risks. So why do then sponsors push for the program execution so hard?

The answer is money. Millions of dollars from program fees are at stake. Sponsors collect more than 100 million of dollars annually. Agents collect millions. Cancelling the program officially would open Pandora’s box and cause huge financial, reputational and operational damage to all swt beneficiaries. It would break 50-year long swt tradition. Legal ramifications are big too. Sponsors, employers and agents, backed by DoS, are eager to benefit at the expense of American and foreign nationals. Instead of pausing/cancelling the program US sponsors have adopted a different tactic. They drag the program cancellation until students cancel the program themselves and bear all costs. By adopting this exhausting tactic sponsors and agents get to keep large chunk of money without risk of serious pushback from students. Although not an ideal scenario for the State, the agency nonetheless has decided to side with sponsors at the expense of foreign students and American image abroad. Let’s see what is happening with swt program abroad.

“Robbed and cheated by America”or what is happening with swt program overseas

Students’ disappointment and rage are not be obvious sitting in United States but is fully observable overseas. In fact, the level of anger and frustration among students and their families is deeply concerning. It feels like students caused the virus and now have to pay for it and bear all losses. In stunning reversal of behavior “reliable and backed by DoS” agencies treat students pretty badly. Swt participants are being deceived and taken advantage by “US embassy accredited” agents, sponsors and the State itself. Consequence? The complete opposite outcome from what was envisioned by the Fulbright-Hays act – alienation and contempt to US is growing and is at new highs.

Nonrefundable mandatory US government fees

SWT applicants paid Sevis ($35) and consulate fees ($160) but students never necessitated the use of the Sevis system nor they went through visa interviews. Agents says these fees are non-refundable and students have to “forget about it”. Some agents reportedly charged elevated Sevis fees, students also had to pay bank fees. On global scale US government pocketed about $3.5 millions in Sevis fees and $16 millions in consulate fees without providing any services in return.

“I feel like I was robbed and cheated. You can’t just take my money and blame the virus, America must refund my money” – said Anna, a Russian swt applicant.

Pressured to cancel. Playing a chicken game.

US sponsors instead of cancelling the program put students in a painful limbo. Months of torturous anticipation put tremendous psychological pressure on students to withdraw from the program. Sponsors are not cancelling the program but keep postponing it. They keep adding new requirements until it becomes completely unattractive for students and students have no other choice but to cancel it themselves. If students voluntarily cancel participation in the program sponsors and agents get to keep money. US sponsors are essentially playing a chicken game with foreign students. Here are some comments from frustrated students.

“Agents and sponsor already got the money. They no longer give a shit. If I cancel I lose about 60k. They push students into the corner and force to cancel. It is a much better option for them. They don’t have to worry if something happens with us in US. Agents  should be on our side, but they push us with sponsors. I don’t know.” – said frustrated student[in1].

“If program officially cancelled, they will have to refund, that is why agents are brazenly press us “Are you still willing to continue? Are you still interested. You can cancel it now. You either go to US or write the cancellation notice”. And sponsors keep emailing us if we are still interested. They push us to sign additional agreements. They ask if I changed my mind and want to cancel. Instead of helping us there is only negativity from them.” – complained student.

“No point of the program this year. I am getting out” – said another student.

“Fuck, they really do not give a fuck about us” – said student.

“The agency invited me to the office and suggested to write cancellation notice and certify that I do not have any claims for money refund. That is ridiculous.” – shared mad student.

Agents instead of refunding monies encourage students to postpone participation to 2021. But conditions are unfair and unsuitable for most of applicants. First, agents and sponsors want to lock millions of students money for a year without providing any sort of compensation. In fact, they require more payments. With broken trust, students fear of additional fees in the future. There no certainty since agents say program conditions will change significantly. Second, with uncertainty over virus spread and its impact on US economy students are not willing to commit extra money for something that might be cancelled/severed again next year. Third, some students will graduate this year, some will be last year students next year thereby significantly increasing chances of visa denial. Overall, the program fundamentals have changed dramatically. What students paid for months ago now is a completely different program – less attractive and less credible. Why to pay for something that you no longer like and trust?

Declaring force majeure

SWT recruitment must have been paused after World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic. Even in January it is was obvious that there are significant risks for SWT 2020. However, even after DoS elevated health advisory level and Trump closed the border with China the SWT machine continued to run at full speed. Agents – sponsors “trusted and reliable” overseas partners – aggressively recruited and sponsors issued DS forms. Even after DoS issued very much delayed suspension notice (which notably excluded recruitment for upcoming swt program) agents and sponsors continued recruitment. In fact, agents tried to lure more students by giving out discounts for program fees[in2].

Agents and sponsors did not stop signing students up for the program because they want to maximize profits. They can always invoke “Force majeure” clause in the contract and still get paid. In fact, that is exactly what is happening. SWT applicants are bearing all costs of program cancellation/suspension. Agents refer grumbling students to check the contract and “read carefully” the force majeure clause. That is just a fancy way of saying “You aren’t getting your money back. We are covered”.

One Russian lawyer after reviewing SWT agent agreement noted that the “contract is written by very smart attorneys and in any way students have little chances of winning the case in the court”. Indeed, students rarely read dozens of multipage documents when they sign up for the program. But it is more complicated than that. The vast majority of students simply have no money to afford attorney.  With low chances of winning students risk end up spending much more on top of lost swt money. And local attorneys have no swt expertise and cannot successfully wrestle with savvy and experienced swt agents. Moreover, given weak judicial systems in swt sourcing countries, swt agencies can simply disappear or declare bankruptcy even if students win the case. Take for instance, large Irish agency that went bankrupt in April and declared that it is “not in a position to pay any refunds” to swt clients [22]. It has already been reported that some local swt representatives had taken down their agency’ signs and vacated offices. Next, potential litigation is complicated by the complex international nature of the swt program. Several distinct and legally immune parties are involved in the program.

Sponsors and agents are now kicking the ball between each other saying each of them have participants’ money and incurred “significant” expenses (Although most of the processes are automated, typically team of 2-3 swt agents handle more than hundred of swt applications throughout the season). Sponsors and DoS are immune – students can not hold them accountable even if they magically win the case in Russian court. Utilizing American attorneys is out of question for ordinary students because of their cost and geographic limitations. Sponsors are effectively shielded. DoS is enjoying sovereign immunity. Therefore, because of high costs, lack of local expertise, fissured swt scheme, contractual protection and international barriers it is practically impossible to refund students’ money via courts. Precisely for these reasons swt abuse is happening year after year although at more subdued scale.

The outcome? Well, swt history has taught us a lot and this time is no different. Just like always, disillusioned and mad swt students may grumble a little but ultimately they will have to bear all costs and soak up losses. Reliable “US accredited agents and sponsors” will continue recruitment next year.

Students’ financial loss

SWT students in current situation do not have many options to chose from. DoS – the ultimate program’s administrator – has abandoned students in their battle with savvy agents who call collective requests to refund money a “scam”. They have no one to complain to and ask for assistance – agents, sponsors and DoS are all in the same boat. Either way students are going to lose money, no party is issuing full refunds. The range of financial loss varies and depends on agency, sponsors and recruiting stage. Results from surveys of Russian speaking swt participants shown in Figure 2. Below are students’ responses to the question “How much money are you going to lose due to program cancellation?”. The average total loss is about $500, minimum is $150 and maximum reported $1700. Table 1 below provides summary of approximate swt fees and losses (does not include air fare). Had DoS and sponsors paused/cancelled program on time many of these fees could have been avoided/reduced.

Screen Shot 2020-07-11 at 12.20.52 AM
Figure 2. Swt participants’ financial loss due to program cancellation

The basic question participants ask is why they should pay so much money for not participating in the program and not going to the United States?

Indeed, why did some sponsors charge swt applicants in excess of $330 although actual associated expenses are much less? In 2017 the US Department of State in proposed rules stated that “Total costs of the proposed regulation per exchange visitor would be $160 and total new costs per exchange visitor would be $104” and “The total cost of all regulatory provisions per small sponsor exchange visitor is $154; total cost of all new regulatory provisions per small sponsor exchange visitor is $98″[45]. That means that under current regulations sponsors have spent less than $100 per exchange visitor (indeed, there is an example of withholding about $100). The Agency in the same rulemaking also noted that new costs mainly have to do “with better documenting the host placement and ensuring that cross-cultural activities are part of the program for all exchange visitors”. Since swt applicants did not arrive in the US, the sponsors’ expenses are therefore less. Considering the global scale of the swt program, the difference  results in millions of dollars in “revenues” for sponsors. Shame. It looks like sponsors have used hard times of the crisis as an opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of American reputation abroad.

Screen Shot 2020-08-17 at 5.14.49 PMTable 1. Estimate of SWT 2020 fees and student losses

As you look at the numbers keep in mind those thousands of broken young people and their families who worked months to save for the program. Do not think it is not a big deal – it is actually a very big deal for families from developing countries with low wages. For relative comparison, multiply these numbers by 8 to get an approximate value in US. Last year almost 5 thousand Russian students participated in the program. Worldwide that number was 108k. Assuming similar recruitment levels in 2020, total students’ financial losses are very large. That in turn means that sponsors, agents and DoS have pocketed a lot of money.

“I had to work whole year to save for the program and also borrowed” – said upset student.

No doubt, DoS mismanagement of program has caused significant financial damage to foreign students. But there are also serious long-term US reputational ramifications.

Reputational and US foreign relations damage

Inconsistent treatment of  swt participants around the world is a problem. While the small number of students would be able to participate in the program as “usual”, the vast majority would be forced to cancel the program or accept much worse conditions. It is just not fare when some students can and others cannot participate. Many students who dreamed about traveling to US but could not, now watch with jealousy at agents’ screaming posts how some of their clients travelled to US. The very same agents that pressured students to cancel the program now aggressively advertise “pioneering” trips to America. At a time when most of students are mad because of failed trip and financial losses, agents continue to tease them. Such unequal treatment and short-handed agents’ PR campaign fuels more swt discontent. It is like admitting only few football fans into the highly advertised World Championship finals where your favorite team plays. Then broadcasting it to thousands fans who were not allowed to attend, lost money and were treated badly. The overall effect is that foreign students feel cheated and scammed which ultimately hurts US image abroad.

As an American citizen (born overseas) it is especially alarming and painful to observe how DoS’s chronic mismanagement of the program fosters contempt, hate and disdain to United States. It’s disgraceful that the agency tasked with protecting American interests abroad neglects them in favor of protecting financial interests of swt beneficiaries. Mr. Fulbright would be very disappointed and saddened had he seen the failure of his program. In this whole situation it is an attitude of the US sponsors and DoS to foreign nationals is that what is most disturbing as students are treated like dirt, must soak up losses and pay for no services in return.

“Why does the US Department of State allow agents and sponsors to rob us? Why? Is not State supposed to control the program?” – complained upset student.

DoS and sponsors irresponsible actions create long-term problems for America worldwide. Russia is particularly good example since swt program is supposed to turn young Russians into American sympathizers. Given current stage of highly polarized and politicized US-Russia relationship even few negative swt experiences have a potential to torpedo overally good swt experiences.

In fact, US federal auditors have stated: “if even one participant has a harmful or abusive experience, the potential also exists for notoriety and disrepute to the program, State, and the country”[11]. Last time DoS alienated thousands of Russians in 2013 – when the DoS used swt program as political blackmailing tool[13]. Earlier in 2011-2012, because of DoS decade-long negligence of swt program, thousands of Russians were refused visas and suffered financial and emotional damage. US government similarly pocketed millions of dollars in consular and Sevis fees. This time it is much worse – if issues are not rectified  hundreds of thousands around the world will have a bad taste of America for many years to come. To counteract the negative impact of disappointed participants on the US image abroad much higher number of “happy” participants will be needed. But with broken trust and damaged reputation it will be difficult to lure students into the program. Anyone’s reputation can be tarnished quickly but it takes significant efforts to restore it.

Surely some students would try to challenge in courts the unfair status quo. The sentiment is there and many students are consulting local attorneys. Imagine wave of lawsuits around the world – news like those may dominate headlines for a while. In dozens of countries local news will cover how broken and cheated students sue “US accredited agents”. Regardless whether they win or not it will damage US reputation. Is that what US sponsors want? Reputational damage to US will be substantial.

Now foreign students want to come to US. By allowing to rip students off in 2020, DoS will not only reduce that interest but will do more long-term damage. DoS failure to discipline sponsors fosters hostility and animosity to US instead of fostering mutual friendship between countries. By chasing short term financial profits American sponsors are failing America in a long-term. Thousands of cheated young students around the world will remember of being cheated by American sponsors, agents and the State for rest of their lives. They will grow up and forget details but they will remember sore feeling of being deceived. The DoS, that was promised by agents to “guarantee” the program, has turned them down and instead sided with unscrupulous agents, greedy sponsors and charged foreign students for no services in return. That negative feeling is likely to be amplified much more given highly politicized US-Russia environment. In global context, DoS must think strategically and must avoid alienating thousands of young people around the world. Such mismanagement plants a seed for future US problems overseas. It fosters future American haters. Taken to extreme, if radicalized, these “cheated by US” students may become a threat to US national security.

“My view about America has changed. I keep having this bad taste of feeling cheated. This virus crisis has opened my eyes onto many things. Very disappointing” – complained Russian student.

At the end, regardless how much money foreign students lose, it is their negative experience throughout last months with “American” program what matters the most. It is that bad taste and sore feelings of being unfairly treated. The damage and disappointment sentiments are there and that is a serious problem for the program intended to improve American image abroad.


  • There are too many significant barriers for successful swt execution in 2020. Lessons from notorious swt history are ignored.
  • Covid-19 crisis has exposed DoS unwillingness to protect foreign students, its disdainful attitude to swt participants.
  • DoS has put the financial interests of sponsors and agents above the safety and prosperity of Americans.

Although the DoS has outsourced administration of the program to third parties, ultimately the State is responsible for the successful execution of the program. Lack of timely and centralized response from the DoS have damaged swt program’s reputation and with it the American image abroad. Irresponsible actions of DoS-designated sponsors  have alienated thousands of foreign students around the world. If no corrective actions are taken, American reputation and credibility abroad will be in serious trouble, and the swt program will face significant setbacks in the future.


Since SWT program’s foundational  pillars are no longer present and there is no reliable vaccine against Covid-19,  the SWT program in 2020 should be abolished. As this analysis indicates the program cancelation is a win-win solution. By doing so DoS will secure jobs for Americans and protect US and the world from the second wave of Covid-19. Cancelling the program in orderly and consistent fashion would do little harm compared to risks and drawbacks of program execution. Although DoS has failed to do so earlier, it still has time and resources to rectify the situation.

To restore American reputation abroad and ensure solid swt program participation in the future, DoS must issue full refund to all swt applicants. Every single dollar counts. The Agency must also publicly denounce sponsors’ actions who tried to profit at the expense of American reputation abroad. America stands to lose much more by abandoning foreign students in these difficult times. Refunding all money to SWT 2020 applicants is the best public diplomacy, certainly much better than participation itself.

Please support petition to issue full refund to SWT 2020 applicants.

Published May 30, 2020. Last updated June 14, 2020. Please cite the article when using it.

External References

  1. Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, § 2451, Pub. L. No. 87-256, 75 Stat. 527 (codified at 22 U.S.C. Chapter 33), commonly referred to as the “Fulbright-Hays Act.”  https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/iegps/fulbrighthaysact.pdf
  2. Code of Federal Regulations Title 22 Part 62, https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&r=PART&n=22y1.
  3. “AP IMPACT: US fails to tackle student visa abuse” by Associated Press, December 6, 2010, https://www.foxnews.com/us/ap-impact-us-fails-to-tackle-student-visa-abuses
  4. “Guestworker Diplomacy J visas receive minimal oversight despite significant implications for the U.S. labor market”, byDaniel Costa, EconomIc PolIcy InstItute, July 14, 2011, https://www.epi.org/files/2011/BriefingPaper317.pdf
  5. “Culture Shock: The Exploitation of J-1 Cultural Exchange Workers”, by Meredith Stewart, Southern Poverty Law Center, February 2, 2014, https://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/Culture-Shock
  6. “Amending J-1 Visa Program Could Boost Job Opportunities for American Youth”, by Clio Chang, The Century Foundation, July, 2015, https://tcf.org/content/report/amending-j-1-visa-program-could-boost-job-opportunities-for-american-youth/
  7. “The president could create 100,000 jobs for young Americans by ending J-1 Summer Work Travel”, by Daniel Costa, EconomIc PolIcy InstItute, March 17, 2016, https://www.epi.org/blog/the-president-could-create-100000-jobs-for-young-americans/
  8. “Pleas Unheeded as Students’ U.S. Jobs Soured”, by  Julia Preston, The new York Times, October 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/17/us/hershey-foreign-exchange-students-pleas-were-ignored.html
  9. “Foreign student McDonald’s workers describe excessive hours, little privacy”, by David Wenner, Penn live, March 11, 2013, https://www.pennlive.com/midstate/2013/03/mcdonalds_foreign_students_che.html
  10. “Cheap Labor as Cultural Exchange: The $100 Million Summer Work Travel Industry” by Jerry Kammer, Center for Immigration Studies, December 2011, https://cis.org/sites/cis.org/files/SWT-Report.pdf
  11. United States General Accounting Office, “State Department Has Taken Steps to Strengthen Program Requirements, but Additional Actions Could Further Enhance Oversight” (GAO-15-265), March 2015, https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-265
  12. Justice in Motion, J-1 Visa, November 2015, https://683ba61a-c54c-40f0-acc5-a9f6c778d737.filesusr.com/ugd/d83957_86b0e965ee7041698151baafbfcc011e.pdf, alternative link https://www.justiceinmotion.org/j1
  13. “U.S. Embassy Slams Door on Student Workers”, By Jonathan Earle, The Moscow Times, April 2013, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2013/04/03/us-embassy-slams-door-on-student-workers-a22980
  14. Total Coronavirus Cases in China https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/china/
    Total Coronavirus Cases in Russia https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus//country/russia/
  15. “U.S. Charges 37 Alleged Money Mules”, September 30, 2010, https://krebsonsecurity.com/2010/09/u-s-charges-37-alleged-money-mules/
  16. https://www.theguardian.com/global/2020/apr/21/trump-us-immigration-ban-pause-green-cards
  17. Sex. Money. Work and Travel. Part One. https://comingtoamerika.com/sexabuseengone/
  18. Cultural Exchange Myth https://comingtoamerika.com/culturelieeng/
  19. COVID-19 Information https://ru.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/
  20. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/ea/travel-advisory-alert-global-level-4-health-advisory-issue.html
  21. https://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/news/coronavirus/article241629951.html, https://wkow.com/2020/03/18/travel-restrictions-keep-j-1-visa-students-in-the-dells-without-jobs/, https://www.aspentimes.com/news/hundreds-of-aspen-area-j-1-visa-holders-struggle-to-return-to-home-countries-amid-coronavirus-pandemic/
  22. https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/travel-news/usit-not-in-a-position-to-refund-j1-students-due-to-insolvency-39119163.html
  23. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/05/28/unemployment-claims-coronavirus/
  24. https://wpde.com/news/local/myrtle-beach-will-be-under-curfew-sunday-night
  25. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-honoring-commitment-protect-american-workers-temporarily-pausing-immigration/

About us

Team of swt veterans dedicated to protect and educate swt students. Stope swt abuse. Stop swt lies. Protect vulnerable students. Whether it is the US Department of State, American sponsor/employer or overseas agent, they all must respect the rights of swt participating students.

We are not native English speakers so please be gracious.

The book (Half-American, further “book”) and any information on this website is intended for the general informational purposes only and for the audience of 18 years old and up. It is not intended to provide any kind of legal advice or recommendation. The book and any information on this website is not a substitute for any type of professional, legal, immigration or any other advice or recommendation and cannot be considered as such whatsoever. The authors, sellers and copyright holders assume no responsibility for any omissions or errors whatsoever. You should use the book and any information on this website at your own fitness and risk only. Any view, opinion, data or other information on this website is not warranted as to completeness or accuracy, is subject to change without notice and authors, sellers and copyright holders accepts no liability for its use or to update or to keep it current. Any views or opinions, described in the book and on this website, might be those of individuals interviewed, and are not necessarily of the authors, sellers or copyright holders. The authors, sellers and copyright holders also disclaim any implied warranties of fitness of the book and any information on this website for any particular purpose and shall in no event be liable for any losses and/or damages arising from the use or misuse of this information. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of information in the book and any information on this website without seeking legal counsel from an experienced attorney authorized to practice in the relevant area of expertise.

RswtR with Overview

Russian SWT Roulette: Overview of J-1 Summer Work and Travel program in Russia