Category Archives: Research

(Research 1998 – 1999) Protecting Young People on European Exchanges



EXCHANGES FROM ABUSE (Research 1998 – 1999)


Chris Gould, Chairman

Child-Safe International Ltd

Avon and Somerset Constabulary,

PO Box 37, Valley Road, Portishead, BristolBS20 8QJ, United Kingdom

Tel: + 44 (0) 1275 816131  / Fax: + 44 (0) 1275 816655

email: website:


Legislative and regulatory concerns about the policing and control of child sex offenders, convicted or otherwise, has increased both nationally and internationally during the past three to five years.  High profile cases in both the United Kingdom and Belgium have focused attention on the best way of combating such offending.

In August 1996 the first “World Congress Against Commercial and Sexual Exploitation of Children” was organised in Stockholm.  Several countries subsequently introduced extra-territorial legislation to prosecute citizens who commit crime against children overseas (“sex tourism”) and an increasing interest has been shown in the sex offender “register” concept that was initiated in the USA.  Such a register was introduced in the UK under the Sex Offender Act in September 1997.  Concerns continue about how to prevent potential child sex offenders gaining employment to work with children.  Both the European Union and the Council of Europe have taken decisions with pan-European implications.

The British Government is currently looking at preventing unsuitable people working with children, under the auspices of an interdepartmental working group.  Legislation is expected to be introduced in the Spring of 2001 which will lead to the creation of a national Criminal Records Bureau, allowing criminal record checks and, in some cases, intelligence checks to be carried out by employers on such staff.  The Premier’s Department, NSW, Australia have been working on a similar piece of legislation earlier this year, entitled “Employment Screening Procedures for Child Protection”.

Following his innovative work with the “Holiday Snapshots…” research, Detective Superintendent Chris Gould has been collaborating with the interdepartmental working group on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers, to ensure that his findings are considered for any future legislation.


Just when it seemed that child abuse had infested all possible “child” areas of our society, and that nothing else could shock us or present itself as “new”… along came some extraordinary revelations by two experienced British police officers.

Following exposure that a Spanish boy had been placed within a host family in the policing area of the Avon and Somerset Constabulary, United Kingdom, the father of whom was a known paedophile, Chris Gould and Kaye Jones set about examining school exchanges and the cultural, educational and language commercial business within Europe. They wanted to see exactly who, and what, regulates this multi-billion dollar enterprise.

In April last year, the Home Office awarded a grant to both officers, with a remit to identify the range and extent of child abuse on international visits, focusing primarily upon the European Union.  Their research project “Holiday Snapshots…Protecting Young People on European Exchanges from Abuse” has already gained international recognition  –  even prior to publication.  By April 1999, the officers were receiving the Police Research Award for innovation from the Home Secretary Jack Straw MP.  By now, this pioneering child protection work of the Avon and Somerset Constabulary, had become known as “Child-safe” and this specialist area of investigation was referred to as

“Child-Safe Travel-Safe”.

For over a year the officers travelled extensively looking at the best practice child protection procedures across the world.  The results of their research focus on homestays by young people under the age of 18 and have now been consolidated.  The findings were then segmented into a series of practical information books targeted at the main groups involved in organising or using international homestays.  The seven books provide practical guidelines on how to set up and monitor child safety policies whilst also providing a solid background of case histories from around the world which illustrate the extent and seriousness of this problem.  This paper can only hope to give a brief overview of the issues, findings and recommendations.  Further details of the work can be found by accessing the “Child-Safe” website (, or by speaking with the authors.

Some things became clear almost immediately. No-one seemed to know the structure of the industry itself, such is its complexity and diversity.  The business is totally unregulated and few, if any, checks are being done in respect of host families, agents or organisations.  Crimes against children are happening and are either not being reported or the information is suppressed.

The research project was designed to capture anecdotal evidence from across Europe of cases where young people had experienced abuse in this way.  These examples were sought in order to establish the range of difficulties that young people were encountering, without speculating as to the scale of the problem unless records and interviews made it statistically possible.  This evidence would hopefully reinforce the need for legislation, regulation of controls to be put in place across the European Community.  At the very least it would foster debate as to the level of State intervention, raise awareness of the issues, improve self regulation and ultimately lead to enhanced safety and welfare conditions for young travellers.


The project has two primary objectives:

  • To identify a sample of cases involving child abuse to or by foreign visitors within the European Community, following placements into host families by school exchanges, twinning or other educational or cultural visits.
  • To determine how the research findings can be used to assist European Governments, relevant travel organisations or other businesses, language schools, educational authorities or twinning associations in preventing the placement of young people on European exchanges in a home where they are likely to be at risk from abuse.

The project also has three hidden objectives:

  • Publicity, to ensure that parents and organisations are made aware of the potential risks inherent with such travel
  • To work towards the creation of appropriate legislation or regulation within the UK or Europe
  • To publish informative travel books/booklets to targeted audiences offering the best practice and guidance alternatives

Methodology (in brief)

à         Press strategy…release of information re research and cases uncovered

à         Personal interviews with victims, parents, organisers, agents, schools,

host families

à         Focus days held with specialists both in the UK  and abroad

à         Telephone interviews with organisations, victims etc

à         Questionnaires sent to host families, organisations and students

(10,000 – UK only)

à         Telephone questionnaire with 54 police forces UK and Channel Islands

à         Extensive literature searches, including internet search and document analysis

à         Visits to USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Belgium,

Spain etc

Research findings

It has been established that this “industry” is extremely diverse and complex, and for some twenty, thirty or even forty years it has existed without any form of regulation.  The standards within the businesses vary dramatically from those which have set up their own professional standards body to those ”cowboys” who seasonally set themselves up to make a fast dollar.  This can mean, for instance, that children are being placed within homestays that have never been visited, let alone checked.  There are many instances where extra children have turned up on the coach and organisers have resorted to knocking on doors randomly in order to find last minute hosts, some have even flicked through telephone directories, ringing locals who may be able to assist and at the same time earn some extra cash.

Within the first three months some 550 cases of abuse had been discovered, ranging from neglect through to emotional, physical and sexual abuse.  This was enough to indicate to the authors that there is a problem and from that time their efforts were concentrated on looking for best practice and guidance from which recommendations for change could be made.  Whilst the research considers all types of travel that young people under 18 years venture upon; whether it be staying in youth hostels, hotels, igloos or under canvas: 95% of all abuse cases uncovered happened within a homestay environment.  The number of recorded cases uncovered during this research now exceeds 1,000.

For many child protection professionals, the cases discovered will not be shocking.  They will not be different in any way to those already experienced within their own professional capacities.  However, one big difference is that of those first 550 cases which were Europe wide with a handful from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and America; only three had ever reported to any law enforcement agency.

Victims give many reasons for not reporting, for example; not being able to speak the language; putting up with the situation because it is only short stay; lack of understanding in relation to culture, practices or procedures; not having a parent or guardian close by or contactable, nor any other adult with whom they feel comfortable to disclose.  In many cases, the use of a telephone to either ring home or contact an adult supervisor or guide is restricted or made difficult by homestay rules.  In some situations telephone calls are forbidden.  Young people travelling abroad or away from home are vulnerable, some more than others.

If a report is made to agents or organisers, the young person is generally removed from the host family, but that is the full extent of the action taken, leaving an offender or suspect free to host again.

Whilst the research focused on cultural, educational and language visits made by the under 18 year olds travelling abroad, there was little, if any, safety, welfare or pastoral guidance being given by any organisation.  Since this work started in the UK the officers have worked closely with the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE), who, following consultation with the authors, have now published “Guidance on Pupil Health and Safety on School Visits” which includes advice about International Visits.  The British Incoming Tour Operators Association (BITOA) have also consulted the authors and produced a “Homestay Committee Report” giving advice for homestays.  The British Council, ARELS and BASELT have published some of the earlier pieces of guidance issued during this research.

The complexity and diversity of this industry, coupled with apparent under-reporting of incidents of abuse to the authorities, has resulted in law enforcement agencies having little, if any, intelligence or information on this area of criminality.  Limited intelligence and involvement, that is: until now. Law enforcement includes not only the police, but Customs and Excise, Immigration, Europol, Interpol, National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) as well as prosecution lawyers.

Specific Cases

Cases range from children not being fed at all whilst on a visit, to those fed solely on such things as peanut butter or jam in order to save money.  Others have slept three to a bed, some sleeping under beds or in a cupboard under the stairs and others as young as seven or eight who have simply been left or abandoned and have quickly found themselves to be lost.

There have been cases where the host family circumstances have changed and visitors have been turned out of the home following domestic disputes or some who were not accepted into the home in the first instance.  Many children and young people have been victims of acquisitive crime with property or money being stolen.  Some have suffered verbal and racial abuse and we have heard many reports of young people who have been exposed to domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse by their hosts.

At the more sinister, thin of the wedge, there are known, or suspected, sex offenders or child abusers who have infiltrated the “industry” – either acting as hosts or attaining more prominent positions as language school teachers or even agents or organisers.  The researchers came across cases of known paedophiles who have been trafficking vulnerable young people from places like Albania into Europe.  At this time, it is difficult to determine the full extent of abuse or the level of such incursion.  Suffice to say, that what has been revealed is considered to be just the tip of the iceberg.

There are but a few known, reported cases that have subsequently been investigated and prosecuted.  In Perth, Western Australia, a 65 year old organiser was convicted less than two years ago of the sodomy, amongst other crimes, of a 14 year indigenous boy who was en route from the north to stay with a host family in the South West.  This man had been abusing vulnerable children on such cultural exchanges for many years.

In Minnesota, USA, A 17 year old French boy who stayed with a host family, was convicted of sexual assault of the 12 year old daughter of his hosts, following several days of molestation.

In Nottinghamshire, UK a host father was convicted of possession of pornographic videos following a disclosure by the young Spanish boy whom it is believed he was sexually attempting to groom.

Scale of the problem

The scale of this problem is unknown due to the inadequate records kept within Europe in respect of youth travel.  Essentially, there is no base line from which to begin calculations.  However, to give the issue some perspective, estimates from tourist records kept by the British Tourist Authority and the English Tourist Board, indicate that in 1998 some 4 million children under the age of 18 entered the UK. Of those, just over 1 million travelled on what are recorded as independent holidays or studies.

From a European search, the researchers estimate that in 1998 between 5 and 6 million children and young people travelled abroad on cultural, educational or language trips, the majority of which passed without incident.  Although impossible to say accurately, the officers’ professional view from the work conducted so far is that in total approximately 4-5% per annum are suffering some form of abuse.

There are some 60+ million school aged children in Europe, so the potential growth in this area of travel is huge.  Youth tourism already represents 20% of the world tourist market and this figure is growing.  In 1998, within the UK alone, student expenditure was in excess of £1 billion (including course fees, accommodation and travel).

To give a further example of the size and scale to this “industry”, the Federation of International Youth Travel Organisations (FIYTO) represent some 289 member organisations world-wide in 72 different countries.  Their turnover per annum is 6 billion US dollars, serving some 14 million young people travelling annually and selling over 6 million air and surface tickets.

Research Methodology

Within the United Kingdom the officers circulated

  • 5,280 host family questionnaires
  • 1,242 student questionnaires to international visitors within the UK
  • 574 questionnaires to school aged pupils (12-14 years)
  • 1,260 questionnaires to university students
  • 731 questionnaires to organisers

The return rate is at present in excess of 15%, however, responses continue to be received almost daily.

Following the implementation of a media strategy many individuals came forward and face to face interviews were conducted with victims, parents, organisers, agents, teachers and others.  An abundance of mail has been received from people with concerns together with supporters of this work and organisations looking to implement changes as well as many individuals who have suffered abuse whilst travelling in this way.

Experiments were conducted in various parts of the UK, and police checks were made on host families employed by certain organisations.  In one such experiment, 700 families were checked, 26 had serious convictions for offences such as supplying drugs, armed robbery, indecency offences, serious assaults and two known paedophiles were identified.

Numerous focus days have been held gathering experts together both in the UK and Spain.  Searches have been made, throughout Europe and beyond, including both literature trawls and the examination of travel statistics and existing legislation.  Meetings have taken place with Europeans from the travel industry, youth exchange, education, child protection charities, law enforcement and others both on a formal and informal basis.

Presentations have been made by the authors at both the House of Commons, UK, and the European Parliament in Brussels highlighting the concerns and problems within this area of youth and student travel. Ministers are now working towards airing these issues within the European Parliament Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs Committee.

Emerging facts from completed host family questionnaires

  • only 11.6% of host families were interviewed face to face
  • only 13% were obliged to supply references
  • around 10% were never visited by the agents or organisations nearly 10% of organisers making a home visit failed to check on students’ sleeping arrangements or facilities
  • over half were not asked to sign any form of contract
  • only 10.6% of host families received an unannounced visit
  • 61.5% work for language schools
  • only 25.5% of host families were asked if they would consent to a police check
  • only 10.9% were  required to look after students’ welfare
  • 25.2% of host families said that they had experienced “difficulties” when hosting
  • 21.2% of these said the organiser had been “unhelpful” or “very unhelpful” at these times
  • 93.9% of host families were given information about their student prior to their arrival
  • 65.6% were provided guidance and practical support from the organiser

Recommendations – the way forward

Earlier in this report the use of criminal records was alluded to.  The authors are clear, however, that at this time, this is not the answer.  A code of practice ensuring a minimum standard of operation must be implemented throughout this industry and criminal record checks may form part of this as an additional safeguard.

The following is a brief synopsis of the detail contained within the travel guide booklets which the authors have produced. The books themselves will contain suggested formats for written documentation, proformas of checklists, examples of forms and full explanations of the bullet points listed below.

  • Young people must be protected from harm and their general welfare promoted
  • Children have rights – this must be recognised and they must be treated with respect
  • Awareness of child protection issues should be raised throughout your organisation – consider addressing the following

– write a mission statement for your organisation

– ensure that you have a child protection policy

– identify a “Child Protection Officer”

  • Develop safety procedures which minimise the likelihood of children and young people being harmed and which enable organisers and others to respond effectively to accidents or suspected cases of abuse.
  • Empower children and young people and their parents

– give them information about the culture of the country in which they will stay

– tell them where they will be living

– give helpline numbers and emergency contact points

– give everyone involved in the trip an opportunity to feed back about their experiences

–  inform  parents of all arrangements and itineraries

  • Establish links with parents and other relevant organisations, both in this country and abroad
  • Create the right environment to ensure a safe and successful experience – the key points are

– Support

– Communication

– Information

– Preparation

  • Share information about any problems or concerns you may have about individuals or in general
  • with each other

  • between agencies

  • Develop good practice and
  • review and continue to progress and develop

  • hold regular seminars and invite people from all aspects of your  business

  • commercial groups who hold conferences should extend invitations to the voluntary sector and others who are involved in the same work

  • Make sure you have appropriate management practices in place

– raise your standards of child safety

– implement a preventative strategy– it is better to avoid problem than to risk

– safety of a young person

  • Ensure adequate pre-trip planning is conducted
  • consider making a risk assessment of the homestays into which young people will be placed

  • distribute bi-lingual help cards – in the visitor’s own language with the English equivalent

  • advise host families about possible requirements for insurance relating to both property and their vehicle

  • Implement proper training – host parents may be acting in loco parentis and they need to understand the implications of this, as well as your staff/employees
  • ensure a basic level of first aid

  • give adequate health and safety training

  • make sure they understand what to do if a child protection issue arises

  • record and evaluate incidents at homestays – and share the information with each

  • other and between agencies where appropriate

  • Leaders should be fully trained and aware of their responsibilities

  • Recruitment of host families – for instance, language schools in the UK can do the following
  • Contact Area Child Protection Committees to let them know you exist

  • Form a relationship with your Community Beat Officer

  • Subject access checks can currently be undertaken for a fee

  • An interdepartmental working group has been established to look at the following new pieces of legislation

  • Preventing unsuitable people working with children

  • Criminal Records Bureau

  • Check employee details against the DfEE List 99
  • Check employee details against the D H Consultancy Service
  • Define the role of a host family – all parties need to be aware of expectations
  • Address the suitability of current advertising for host families, photographs of children and some text phrases may be wholly inappropriate and attract the type of host
  • Screen Applicants
  • conduct interviews over the telephone and in person

  • make sure that every person who regularly stays within the household has been met

  • ask for a declaration to be signed by each member of the household stating there is no reason why that person should not have access to children and that they have no

  • criminal convictions

  • two people should conduct interviews wherever possible

  • check the identification of the household members – use the voters’ register

  • ask for references – and then follow them up

  • Check out accommodation
  • hosts should be made aware of the organisation’s terms and conditions

  • hosts should be aware of all relevant regulations, legislation and safety issues

  • an accommodation checklist should be completed

  • a host family application form and contract should be signed and dated

  • Remember
  • children and young people should always be listened to, given a sense of belonging and kept safe from harm

  • parents should be informed, supported and encouraged

  • staff volunteers who work with children and young people should be trained, supported and protected

European Conference, Bath 18-22 August 1999

Between 18 and 22 August 1999 invitations were extended to over 100 expert delegates from the 29 Council of Europe Countries.  These experts, from law enforcement, social services, health, youth travel, education and various children’s charities and non-governmental organisations, together with government and European Commission representatives, heard key note speeches and took part in inter-active workshop sessions. Delegates were given an opportunity to critique the work of the authors and present their personal and organisational perspectives in relation to the issues raised.

The conference concluded with each of the European experts endorsing and validating both the work and the research findings.  Undertakings were given that the Child-Safe Travel-Safe guidance would be promoted in each of the Council of Europe countries and lobbying of governments would continue.  Through this inaugural network, delegates committed themselves to continue to work in their respective countries, supporting each other to the goal of enhanced welfare, safety and pastoral care of children and young people engaged in international travel.

UK Launch – House of Commons, 11 October 1999

On 11 October 1999 the Child-Safe Travel-Safe booklets were launched at the House of Commons, London, by Home Office Minister Charles Clarke MP.  Other dignitaries present included Senator Landon Pearson, Advisor on Children’s rights, Canadian Senate; Diana Lamplugh, Suzy Lamplugh Trust; Gordon Blakely, British Council; together with representatives from the Department for Education and Employment, The Federation of International Youth Travel Organisations and children’s charities such as Childline and the NSPCC.


You would not send your child to a house at the end of your street if you knew nothing about the person living there.  Yet on the strength of a glossy brochure, the payment in some cases of vast sums of money, and an assumption that someone else has asked the right questions, we send our children thousands of miles across the world to stay with strangers.

The companies, organisations and individuals that abuse this blind trust cannot be allowed to continue to profit from it and we must all take responsibility for the care and safety of our young people.

2011 Dec: “A Cavalier Attitude”: The State Department’s Legacy of SWT Failure

By Jerry Kammer December 2011
Part Four of Cheap Labor as Cultural Exchange: The $100 Million Summer Work Travel Industry

Jerry Kammer is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

The lobbying organization for the sponsors of federal exchange programs is the Washington-based Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange. Its executive director, Michael McCarry, said in a 2010 speech that his job is to “look for program regulations that are permissive and allow people to come to the United States in a responsible way, and for visa policy that supports these goals.”1
For decades, the federal government’s management of the Summer Work Travel program (SWT), first by the U.S. Information Agency and later by the State Department, has been criticized for permissiveness – in the form of lax regulation and minimal oversight – that has tolerated decades of abuses.
High-ranking employees at some of the sponsoring agencies that partner with the State Department in administering SWT point a finger at the man who was the program’s key regulator for many years until he was removed last June, Stanley S. Colvin.
Colvin’s involvement with exchange programs dates back to the early 1990s, when he worked at the USIA, where he became assistant general counsel. He moved to State when the two agencies merged in 1999, eventually rising to the rank of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Private Sector Exchange. In mid-2011, Colvin was removed from that position and given the title of “strategic adviser” to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.2
Several critics of Colvin agreed to talk about him, but only on condition of confidentiality because they did not want to risk antagonizing the State Department.
He had what I’d call a cavalier attitude,” said one, who was particularly disappointed at what he called Colvin’s tolerance of SWT sponsors that became “visa mills.” That phrase describes organizations that provided little oversight and guidance to the SWT participants from whom the sponsors collect fees. The State Department acknowledged the problem in the spring of 2011 when it said some sponsors were so detached from their young charges that they became “mere purveyors of J-visas.”3
Another critic said Colvin had a tendency to be “dismissive” of those who sought to engage him in dialogue about SWT. He drew this bottom line under Colvin’s stewardship: “There wasn’t the proper oversight.”
Responding to the criticism, Colvin said his record at the State Department, including several awards and a steady rise to the prestigious Senior Executive Service, showed otherwise. He said that in just the last five years of his 25-year career as a regulator of exchange programs, “I have drafted, reviewed, edited, or signed more than 25,000 administrative actions and had one-one-one contact with literally thousands of individuals. I answer my own phone and have an open door policy.”
The long record of criticism of the federal government’s management of SWT and other exchanges in the J visa category begins well before Colvin joined the USIA in 1990. After the General Accounting Office in 1988 and 1989 studied the USIA’s work, it reported that:

“USIA’s management oversight of the J-visa program has not been adequate to ensure the integrity of the program … . USIA lacks adequate information on participant activities, does not enforce requirements that program sponsors provide periodic information on participant activities, has no systematic process to monitor sponsors’ and participants’ activities, and does not adequately coordinate the program internally or with other agencies having visa responsibilities.”4

What is most striking is how consistent the criticisms have been for two decades and how little anyone at State has accomplished to reform the program, protect its young foreign participants, and safeguard the international image of the United States, which the program was established to enhance.
In 2000, a decade after the GAO report, the State Department’s own Office of the Inspector General issued a report titled “The Exchange Visitor Program Needs Improved Management and Oversight.” That report found that State was “unable to effectively administer and monitor the Exchange Visitor Program primarily because of inadequate resources. It found that lax monitoring had created an atmosphere in which program ‘‘regulations can easily be ignored and/or abused.”5
In 2002, the Baltimore Sun reported about dozens of Polish SWT students who “had been left stranded on the streets after the summer jobs they had been promised suddenly vanished.” The story quoted Les Kuczynski, the executive director of the Polish American Congress in Chicago who said the problem was widespread. “This is becoming a national scandal,” Kuczynski said. “You can’t have this going on unregulated.”6
There has been a string of other harsh assessments – in 2005 by the GAO,7 in 2010 by the Associated Press,8 and in 2011 by the Economic Policy Institute.9
Despite the repeated criticisms and calls for reform, problems steadily accumulated. In 2010, as the Associated Press pursued allegations of widespread abuses within the SWT program, a senior adviser to Assistant Secretary Ann Stock said the department was “deeply concerned” about such allegations. Nevertheless, a circle-the-wagons mentality prevailed at State, which turned down the AP’s request for an interview.
Among other abuses, the news agency reported that “strip clubs and adult entertainment companies openly solicit J-1 workers” despite State’s own regulations that prohibit jobs that could bring the program into disrepute. It quoted one company that boasted it was “affiliated with designated visa sponsors” that could help it place J-1 students at strip clubs.
The AP also quoted Terry Coonan, the executive director of Florida State University’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights. Said Coonan, a former prosecutor, “There’s been a massive failure on the part of the United States to bring any accountability to the temporary work visa programs, and it’s especially true for the J-1.”10
Several months before that story appeared, the State Department initiated a review of the SWT program. That led to the new regulations that were issued in 2011 in an attempt to bring order to a program widely regarded as undisciplined and subject to exploitation by negligent sponsors and unscrupulous partner agencies in foreign countries.
The new regulations did little to quell the criticism. Daniel Costa of the Economic Policy Institute wrote that while they “may slightly improve the program’s operations in a few limited ways,” oversight would “continue to be woefully inadequate.”11 An AP critique said the regulations were “vague” and “have few teeth.”12
Preaching Transparency Abroad, Avoiding It at Home
One fundamental problem at State’s Exchange Visitor Program has been the opaqueness of its operations. Recent efforts by outsiders to examine the SWT program have been frustrated by a refusal to answer questions. Also problematic is State’s inability or unwillingness to disclose data that would help measure the performance of sponsors, the amount of fees they collect, the types of jobs students hold, the wages they receive, their effects on local labor markets, and the number of SWT participants who overstay their visas.
Such an attitude about public disclosure belies the 2009 declaration by Judith McHale, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, that exchanges are “the single most important and valuable thing we do.”13 It has also helped cover up the State Department’s history.
Moreover, the absence of accountability contradicts the values of transparency that the State Department preaches around the world. Last July, for example, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota in announcing a new “Open Government Partnership,” the State Department hailed it as an effort at “increasing government openness, strengthening accountability, and enhancing civic engagement.”14
Secretary Clinton added: “When a government hides its work from public view… . that government is failing its citizens. And it is failing to create an environment in which the best ideas are embraced and the most talented people have a chance to contribute.”
The administration of SWT has been infected by just the sort of dysfunction and failure that Secretary Clinton decries. But while State has failed to meet basic measures of transparency at home, it has sought to engage the interest of foreign news organizations and agencies in the expansion of the program around the world.
In May 2011, for example, when officials at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs conducted a web chat with foreign media to announce the rollout of a new J-1 website, one official said it was part of an effort “to be customer centric and user friendly.”15 This is consistent with State’s administration of SWT, which has demonstrated a preoccupation with foreign relations and an indifference to domestic concerns.
Now Stanley Colvin has been replaced by Rick Ruth. A former Foreign Service officer, Ruth has a reputation as a problem solver and a consensus builder.
But he appears to be operating in a culture of excessive rigidity and caution at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. He finally agreed to an interview for this report only after repeated requests had been ignored and only on the condition that his comments not be published until they were reviewed and cleared at State. As a result, a significant Ruth comment about the effects of SWT was deleted from the record.
Nevertheless, as the accompanying transcript of the interview shows, Ruth made many substantive comments for the record. For instance, he said he is concerned about the program’s potential impacts on American workers. He said his challenge is to balance that concern with the value of having future leaders of foreign countries experience life in the United States. “How do we balance that?” he said. “That is one of the hard questions; I am telling you there is now a commitment to do that.”
Responding to the interviewer’s observation that Colvin was widely regarded as a laissez-faire manager, Ruth said flatly, “I am not a laissez-faire guy.”
In response to follow up questions submitted in writing, his office made these points:
“We are moving forward with a new rulemaking that will capture the 2012 summer season. As part of this new rulemaking, we will:
  • Retain and expand the list of prohibited employment categories, including jobs that isolate Summer Work Travel participants from contact with Americans and work that is inappropriate for a cultural exchange.
  • Strengthen the sponsors’ requirements for verifying job placements to ensure there are appropriate jobs for the students.
  • Strengthen the cultural aspects of the program to ensure that the objective of the program – positive exposure to the United States – is accomplished.
  • Require that an independent management audit be provided annually to the Department.”
Visa Diplomacy Trumps Concern for American Workers
In the 1980s, when the Summer Work Travel program was administered by the United States Information Agency, its regulations implicitly acknowledged that the infusion of young foreigners into local job markets could have an adverse effect on local job-seekers. The regulations required that as SWT sponsors prepared SWT participants to come to the U.S., the participants “should be fully briefed on the employment situation in the United States and advised not to seek employment in areas where a high unemployment situation exists.”1
Daniel Costa of the Economic Policy Institute has called that regulation “toothless and unenforceable.”2 Indeed, it was little more than a rule requiring a suggestion. That may explain why it no longer exists now that SWT is administered by the State Department.
And so, in recent years, SWT participants have taken jobs in areas notorious for high unemployment. For example, McDonald’s restaurants in the Washington-Baltimore area have employed hundreds of SWT students, including at least two Russians who in the summer of 2010 worked at the McDonald’s one block from the White House, on 17th Street.
The State Department, whose culture and worldview are shaped by a mission to win friends and influence people in foreign lands, has been oblivious to SWT’s effects at home. Abroad, it has engaged in “visa diplomacy”, touting the J-1 visa as a ticket for college students to work and travel in the U.S.
Even in 2009, when the recession caused State to request that sponsors scale down the numbers brought to the U.S., spokesman Andy Laine told the Baltimore Sun that the request was “a temporary measure… made out of concern for our potential exchange visitors, recognizing that they will face a difficult job market and high exchange rates.”3 There was no mention of unemployed Americans.
The GAO’s Failed Attempt to Limit SWT
The first attempt to constrain the Summer Work Travel program appears to have been made in 1990, as the General Accounting Office suggested limiting employers’ access to the young participants. The GAO issued a report that criticized some job placements as inconsistent with the intentions of the 1961 Fulbright-Hays Act, which created SWT and other exchanges.
The purpose of the legislation was “to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange” and “to assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and the other countries of the world.”4
But the GAO said the employment of exchange visitors in such SWT job categories as waiters and cooks and amusement park workers did not serve “clearly educational and cultural purposes” and therefore “dilutes the integrity of the J visa and obscures the distinction between the J visa and the other visas granted for work purposes.”5
The GAO suggested changes in the federal regulations governing exchange programs in order to make them consistent with the intent of Fulbright-Hays. That proposal presented a threat to many SWT sponsors and employers, raising the possibility that their access to foreign students would be reduced.
The USIA later noted that the report had put SWT “under a cloud of uncertainty” and that exchange sponsors “have sought to resolve the question of Agency authority.”6 They got their wish. In 1998, Congress passed legislation that removed the cloud, allowing the USIA and later the State Department to continue to approve the job placements criticized by the GAO.
That point was driven home by Stanley Colvin, who at that time was director of State’s Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation. In a Hartford Courant story about Polish SWT workers who were complaining about “draconian” working and living conditions at a Six Flags amusement park in Massachusetts, Colvin told the newspaper, “These programs do not operate under Fulbright-Hays authority – period, the end.”7
The congressional move to remove the GAO’s cloud was a big victory for laissez-faire at SWT. It surprised some observers. Said Andrew Schoenholtz, director of law and policy studies at a Georgetown University, “Rather than change their policy to conform to the legislative intent, they’ve changed the legislative intent.”8
Sen. Udall Seeks “Proper Guidelines”
In 2011, Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, responding to a Denver Post article about the expansion of SWT at a time of high rates of youth unemployment, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing concern about the situation.
“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 the letter.9 Udall spokeswoman Tara Trujillo said the senator wanted “to ensure that the proper guidelines are being upheld for hiring through the J visa visitors program and that American workers are not inadvertently hurt.”10
As this report has demonstrated, one of the most remarkable features of SWT is the absence of guidelines to protect American workers. The 1980s regulation for employers to attempt to steer SWT workers away from high unemployment zones was so meaningless that it has disappeared. Moreover, the State Department has promoted the recruitment of SWT participants around the world and their placement throughout the United State, without regard for, labor market conditions.
Nevertheless, when Joseph Macmanus, acting assistant secretary for legislative affairs wrote a response to Udall, he made this remarkable claim:

The Department strongly believes that no program under the Exchange Visitor Program should adversely affect American workers. We are sensitive to this in every aspect of the conduct of this program and continuously monitor the public and private entities we designate to administer the exchange visitor program to ensure that American jobs are protected.”11

The State Department’s 22 years of managing SWT contradict that statement.
But now the new man in charge of State’s Office of Exchange Visitor Programs says he is serious about finding a middle ground between two competing concerns: American workers’ need for work and the State Department’s need to win friends for the United States by placing young foreigners in jobs that allow them to pay their own way.
“It is absolutely essential that we pay close attention to job opportunities for all Americans, particularly young Americans,” said Rick Ruth, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange. “At the same time, it is also very important that we are able to carry out a foreign affairs function that allows us to reach out to young people and make sure that they understand America. The hard part is finding the smart middle ground between those two competing goods.”12
Ruth declined to comment on the position of Labor Department officials who, according to a 2005 Government Accountability Office report, stated “it is not likely that the exchange programs [including SWT] will have any effect on the U.S. labor market because of the small number of J-1 exchange visitors” (including 88,600 SWT workers in 2005).13
The GAO immediately added this observation: “The U.S government does not assess any potential effect of exchange programs on the U.S. labor market.”
As other stories in this series have shown, SWT has negative effects on young Americans, especially in areas where the foreign workers are concentrated, and especially at a time of deep recession. The potential for worsening negative effects is great, especially if the program is allowed to resume the growth that it experienced in the first decade of the new millennium. There are strong economic and political interests who want that to happen.

1 22 CFR PART 62 – Exchange Visitor Program, Sec. 62.80 Summer Student Travel/Work Program.
2 Daniel Costa, Employment Policy Institute, “J visas: Minimal oversight despite significant implications for the U.S. labor market”,….
3 Scott Calvert, “Losing the Accent; Recession Means Fewer Jobs for Foreigners in Ocean City”, Baltimore Sun, May 22, 2009.
5 GAO report: “U.S. Information Agency: Inappropriate Uses of Educational and Cultural Exchange Visas.”
7 Roselyn Tantraphol and Andre J. Bowser, “Polish Workers Criticize Six Flags”, Hartford Courant, September 4, 2002.
8 Ibid.
9 Nancy Lofholm, “Udall flags J visas: The senator asks about steps to prevent the program from displacing U.S. workers”, Denver Post, August 11, 2011.
10 Ibid.
11 Joseph E. Macmanus letter to Sen. Mark Udall, received from Udall’s office.
12 Rick Ruth interview with author.

Interview with Rick Ruth, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange, November 3, 2011
What do you see as the importance of the Summer Work and Travel program?
The State Department oversees these programs because they are deemed to have a foreign affairs function. It is very important to reach out to the successor generation around the world, to reach out in large numbers, if possible, to make sure they have an accurate and first-hand understanding of America and who we are. We know how much misunderstanding about the United States there is in the world.
Your predecessor was widely regarded as having a laissez-faire approach to regulation and to SWT effects on job opportunities for young Americans. Is that a concern?
You’re not talking to a laissez-faire guy. You’re talking to a guy who’s interested in striking a proper balance between a number of competing interests. It is absolutely essential that we pay close attention to job opportunities for all Americans, particularly young Americans. At the same time it is also very important that we are able to carry out the foreign affairs function that allows us to reach out to young people and make sure that they understand America. The hard part is finding the smart middle ground between those two competing goods.
Summer Work Travel is under the State Department because it is supposed to be a cultural, educational experience for the participants. Work is its middle name. Work allows the participants to defray the costs of travel. That has always been seen as a worthwhile tradeoff, partly because it allows for large numbers to come, partly because it allows us to address a demographic that would not otherwise have the financial means to come to the United States.
What do you hope to accomplish with SWT?
I want to be sure that Summer Work Travel looks to you and me and any outsider like a genuine cultural experience. And to the extent that there individuals who would seek to have it be something else or use it for another purpose, that is something I have to address through reforms, through rules, through clarifications of policy, to try to preserve the core intent of Summer Work Travel.
Are you seeing intent to use it for something else?
Yes. There’s no question that any time you deal with mortal men and women and you deal with young people and stakeholders who have a variety of conflicting and competing interests, you’re going to have people who try to exploit the system.
Do you have the resources to do the job you want to do?
We have to grow our office and I plan to do that. This office will grow in size.
You need funding for that to happen.
That funding is secured … . The department has determined that the Summer Work Travel program as it exists today doesn’t look like it’s true to its original intent. It does need significant reform and there will be significant reform. We are present at the creation right now. Things are just starting.
What reforms are you looking at?
We are looking at a fundamental reorganization of the work component. Right now what we have is a fairly short list of prohibited employments. And then arguably everything else is open, subject of course to our notoriety and disrepute clause. We’d like to turn that around so that it’s much more focused on the affirmative, so that we’re talking about the kinds of employment that seem to make sense and be appropriate, such as employment that brings the students on a regular basis into contact with Americans. I would argue that contact with Americans, interaction with American society, is the essence of any cultural, educational program. So a situation where there’s a concentration of Summer Work Travel participants where they are not interacting with Americans during the day doesn’t look to me that it might fit the bill as suitable employment for a J-1 program.
Fish-processing jobs in Alaska, where some plants employ many SWT participants and few Americans, don’t seem to fit that description. But that job is very attractive to many foreign students because they offer the chance to make a considerable amount of money.
It is very attractive. But just as the Summer Work Travel program was not created to provide cheap employment for American employers, it was also not created to be a get-rich program for foreign students.
What is your opinion of the websites in which sponsoring organizations and their partners point out that if employers hire SWT participants they will pay less in taxes than if they hire Americans?
I am angry when I see those things because that is not what the program is supposed to be. Part of my job is to get the program back to where it is supposed to be and that will require some changes, not only in the regulation of the program, but in people’s expectations of it.
But you can’t change the tax structure.
I cannot single-handedly change the tax structure, but I can look at questions like what kind of work is suitable. I can look at the number of hours that young people are allowed to work every week. I can collaborate with other parts of the interagency process at the government to look at increasingly the areas of employment that may be prohibited because they may be excessively hazardous. Consultation is important here. We’ll talk to all parties as we go forward. But the main thing is we need to impose some reforms and strike a proper balance between various interests and make sure Summer Work Travel or any other J visa program is true to why it was created.
Does the culture of State require such an outward vision that you are unaware of domestic effects of SWT?
The answer is no. Of course not. When I say strike the proper balance among competing and important interests, I mean domestic interests as well.
Isn’t it clear that employers are incentivized to hire SWT students and ignore American workers?
There are employers who dispute the idea that that is a significant factor. But I understand that incentives are there.
What have you done to understand SWT’s effects on American workers?
When I came here one of the first things I looked for was a study where a university or organization has done research on the impact of the J visa holders on the American workplace. I would like to see that. I’m not sure that has been done. We might actually have to make that happen ourselves. I would love to see rigorous, independent analysis of this issue.
What is your opinion on the decline in participants in the SWT program, from a high of about 150,000 in 2008 to 103,000 in 2011?
I am comfortable with that. There is a lot of pressure from various sources to have it go up. I’m not concerned with pressures to have it go up. I’m concerned with the integrity of the program.
Do you anticipate disciplinary action against sponsors who have been negligent in overseeing the SWT program?
I can tell you we are pursuing a number of investigations against various sponsors. I can’t give you details.
Do you need to define what cultural exchange means?
That’s part of what I mean when I say I want to reorient job descriptions to be in the affirmative (not just a proscribed list), we have to have a prohibitive list. I don’t want to have: “you can’t do this” and then there is everything else. I would like to positively define the nature of the employment. I would like to pay much more attention to the cultural component. And I would like to find ways to get at the issue of the impact on Americans.
Are you confident you have the authority to reform the program?
I am confident I have the authority to do it … . The secretary has made it clear, the department has made it clear that summer work travel has merit but only if it is reformed to get back to its true intent.
Do you have a timetable?
It will be a rolling timetable. Some things can be done quickly. Others will take more time and consultation is highly important. I’m not going to go off uneducated or half-cocked.
There are competing goods. It is very important for the United States not to be misunderstood or stereotyped or hated by a new generation of young people around the world. How do we balance that? That is one of the hard questions. I am telling you there is now a commitment to do that.

End Notes
1 McCarry speech, May 23, 2008, at a symposium titled “Strategic Initiatives for University Internationalization”, at George Washington University, Washington, DC,….
2 Asked why he was no longer responsible for oversight of J-1 visa exchanges, Colvin replied on December 14, 2011: “Over the last three years the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has been headed by five assistant or acting assistant secretaries, who, in turn, have reported to three, and soon to be four, different undersecretaries for public diplomacy. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has four employees who are members of the career Senior Executive Service. Assistant Secretary Ann Stock reassigned me and two of the other members of the Senior Executive Service. The fourth left the bureau. These reassignments were not related to poor job performance. One of these reassignments resulted in intervention by the Office of Personnel Management. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is actively investigating this matter to determine whether Ms. Stock has engaged in statutorily prohibited personnel practices. The Department of State Office of Inspector General is also investigating whether Ms. Stock has engaged in other prohibited personnel practices unrelated to the reassignment of myself and the other career Senior Executive Service employees. “
3 Federal Register, Volume 76 Issue 80 (April 26, 2011),
4 General Accounting Office, “U.S. Information Agency: Inappropriate Uses of Educational and Cultural Exchange Visas”, February 16, 1990, p. 3,
5 Office of the Inspector General, “The Exchange Visitor Program Needs Improved Management and Oversight”, Audit Report 00-CI-028, September 2000,
6 Walter F. Roche Jr., “Students left adrift in U.S., without jobs”, Baltimore Sun, August 10, 2002.
7 Government Accountability Office, “Stronger Action Needed to Improve Oversight and Assess Risks of the Summer Work Travel and Trainee Categories of the Exchange Visitor Program”,
8 Holbrook Mohr, Mitch Weiss, and Mike Baker: “AP IMPACT: U.S. fails to tackle student visa abuses,” Associated Press, December 6, 2010.
9 Daniel Costa, “Guestworker Diplomacy: J visas receive minimal oversight despite significant implications for the U.S. labor market”,
10 Mohr, Weiss, Baker, op. cit.
11 Daniel Costa, comments on SWT regulations, June 27, 2011,
12 Holbrook Mohr and Mitch Weiss, “Student Visa Program: New Rules, Same Problems”, Associated Press, June 20, 2011.
13 McHale speech at the 2009 board and membership meeting of the Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange,
15 “Rollout of New J-1 Visa Website”,, May 31, 2011.