1-866-283-9090 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) The Department of State activated the helpline to ensure the health and safety of its exchange participants. Students have a right to be treated fairly and to report abuse without retaliation or threat of program cancellation. (Dep of State)
©Gloucester County Times | By REESA MARCHETTI Staff Writer
Guzel of Sterlitamak, Russia, 15 years old, plays basketball and enjoys running. She likes music, literature and dancing and is in the choir. She has two younger brothers. Her teacher says, “She is rather modest, kind, polite and ready to help others.”
As described in a foreign exchange student agency brochure, inviting a youngster like Guzel to stay in your home may sound like a wonderful way to promote international goodwill and expand your cultural awareness.
But recent problems encountered by a host family in Pittsgrove Township have led many people to wonder who regulates the agencies that bring in these students — and what is the cost, to the families, the students and the school districts.
Gitte Hommelgaard, 18, of Denmark has become the object of controversy since she arrived in Pittsgrove last month to stay with the Pokrovsky family and attend Arthur P. Shalick High School there.
Because the school had recently changed its exchange student policy to require 90 days notice to register a foreign student, Hommelgaard was denied admission. Her host mother, Sandy Pokrovsky, appealed the school board’s decision to the state department of education and won emergency relief to enroll the Danish teen at Schalick.
According to the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET), the agency that placed the Danish student should have secured written acceptance from a school official before sending her to the Pokrovsky’s home.
The CSIET, however, is a strictly voluntary system of self-monitoring to which exchange agencies may apply. Adhering to such standards is not legally required in order for an organization to place students from other countries in U.S. schools — and homes.
There are no regulations that control how or when foreign exchange students attend New Jersey’s public schools.
Rich Vespucci, a spokesman at the N.J. Department of Education, said those issues are handled by local boards of education.
“It is a local decision,” Vespucci said. “There aren’t any state regulations that apply to it.”
Nationally, exchange agencies are self-regulated via several voluntary programs. The United States Information Agency (USIA) designates non-profit organizations that meet their requirements, and authorizes them to issue applications for one-year student visas.
The national Association of Secondary School Principals’ CSIET sanctions both non-profit and private agencies who voluntarily submit to their guidelines. Many agencies, such as the Cultural Academic Student Exchange (CASE), which placed Hommelgaard in Pittsgrove, are designated by both the USIA and the CSIET.
Legally, agencies do not have to register with either one in order to arrange student exchanges. Students do not need an agency to get visa applications — they may obtain the visas for themselves, or school principals here or abroad may arrange for the student to get them.
The USIA has a booklet with more than 40 pages of regulations, and operating and financial criteria, that organizations must meet in order to become USIA-designated.
So how does this federal agency monitor its 1,100 exchange programs, of which approximately 70 deal exclusively with high school students? USIA public liaison Bill Reinckens said the only way his office can regulate them is when a complaint is received.
“It is handled on a case by case basis until the situation is resolved,” he said. “We don’t have the staff and resources to be pro-active in our monitoring.
“However, we do a lot more than respond to complaints. We handle the general administration and procedures involved in conducting these exchange programs. As part of this effort, there is constant dialogue and a regular relationship between the USIA and the program organizations we designate.”
Reinckens stressed that contrary to what many of the agencies imply in their advertising, they cannot issue student visas. They are only allowed to supply the application forms.
“The USIA issues application forms that the organizations complete for the participants,” he said. “Then the participants take them to the U.S. consulate in their home country. The students pursue the visas in their country.”
Reinckens suggests that people thinking of hosting an exchange student check with their local better business bureau or department of education. Unlike New Jersey, he said that some states have adopted laws governing exchange agencies.
“Various states, among them Washington, Minnesota and California,” he said, “have passed laws and regulations regarding these kinds of organizations.”
According to Reinckens, 23,000 to 25,000 foreign students attend public school in the U.S. annually on J-1 visas, assisted by USIA-designated agencies. One of the provisions of J-1 is that there are no repeat visits allowed.
“Students on a J-1 can be here for a minimum of one semester to a maximum one-year stay,” he said. “There’s another kind called an F student visa, where a student can stay as long as a high school issues an I-20 form. The high school is responsible for issuing that form.
“Another kind of visa is a B-visa, which is a visitors visa for short-term visits. For example, a student may enter the U.S. on a B-visa if they are just going to attend a class for a few weeks.”
* * *
Some of the methods used by exchange agencies to locate and screen host families for foreign students can cause problems for all parties involved.
Robert Bender, the superintendent of the Carneys Point-Penns Grove district said he has been troubled to see ads for host families on telephone poles just prior to the start of the school year.
“That caused part of the problem,” he said. “They didn’t find families until late in the summer. I think it’s a worthwhile program, but they need to find host families first before bringing the students over.
“Once they do that, it will eliminate a lot of concerns the schools have.”
Bender said that although having a foreign student can be a benefit for the school, it is difficult for administrators to prepare for the student’s needs on short notice.
“A foreign student is a living social studies lesson right in the classroom — there’s so much to be gained by our own students,” he said. “But at the end of summer where you have transfer students coming at the last minute, exchange students make it a little more difficult. We need to review their transcripts and find out where they should be placed.
“You want them to be successful when they’re here. If you only have a day or two, that’s not the way we like it to be. It’s better to do this in time to properly place them.”
Danish student Hommelgaard recently got a lesson in the problems school officials have to deal with when placing a student from another country. Although she is 18 and is taking mostly Grade 12 courses, she had to be placed in junior level history when she started classes at Schalick on Wednesday.
“It’s a bit difficult when you don’t know it,” she said. “I know more Danish history than American history.”
According to Bender, a girl from Russia who attended Penns Grove High School last year didn’t work out and ended up going back home.
Penny Tarplin, the Pittsburgh area CASE director, said that it is not unusual to have to place a child as late as August.
“Sometimes a placement falls through,” she said. “In May, the father of a family here had a heart attack and died.
“Or sometimes a student cancels. I’ve been doing this for 24 years and we learn everything the hard way.”
Ads seeking host families by the Pittsburgh CASE organization can be found in locations as diverse as local newspapers to a page on the Internet.
Tarplin said that except in the few states that require police background checks for host families, her organization is not allowed to request them. Instead, she said she relies on her instincts at an in-home interview with all family members, and three letters of recommendation obtained by the host parents.
“A police check has not been necessary so far,” she said. “We expect the references to take care of that — someone will spill the beans if there are problems.
“I went to visit a potential family once, and all over their wall, they had guns. Needless to say, we did not place a student with them.”
Ellen Battaglia, who is the president of the national CASE organization based in Middletown, agreed that CASE representatives have to use their “professional experience” to find a safe, compatible match between a student and a host family.
“If a student calls and has the slightest qualms about a family, we take the student out,” she said. “We’ve never had any sexual or physical abuse from the host family.”
John Doty is a member of CSIET’s board of directors, as well as the director of Pacific Intercultural Exchange, a West Coast-based student exchange organization. He agreed that being able to do police checks on potential families would be ideal, but not possible in most cases.
“I would feel more comfortable if we had access to criminal background checks,” he said. “We would love nothing more than to tap into a database to find this out.”
According to Doty, even in areas where host families are required by law to agree to a background check, the cost and length of time it would take — up to six months — can be prohibitive.
“Our program’s application form asks if anyone in the family has ever committed a felony,” he said, “but if you ask and the answer comes back no, what good is it? We have to assume that it’s answered correctly.”
Doty said his agency checks with the schools, as well as asking potential host families for personal references.
“If the school says, I wouldn’t place a student with that family, we listen,” he said. “Our program brought in 20,000 students in the past 20 years and never had any reported abuse.”
Tarpin said that to facilitate the student and family getting along, she holds an orientation meeting within 10 days of the student’s arrival in the United States.
“There usually are little things that are cultural that they have to get used to,” she said.
As a local representative, she is expected to stay in close contact with the student and the family, by phone and in person, to help them through any problems during the student’s stay.
Battaglia said that CASE workers are independent contractors who receive $20 a month for each student they supervise.
* * *
The CASE organization is currently under scrutiny by the USIA and the CSIET for its actions in placing the Danish student with the Pokrovsky family.
“We look for patterns of concern,” said Anne Shattuck, CSIET director of operations. “Is this an isolated incident or is this a pattern? Our standards require written acceptance from the school prior to assigning a student to a family, but there may be extenuating circumstances where a phone call worked.”
Because each organization must reapply annually to be CSIET-designated, the incident will not be considered until the CSIET board’s regular meeting in January, Shattuck said.
Doty said that the majority of companies placing foreign students are not regulated at all.
“The USIA has stringent rules, but for-profit agencies are not regulated,” he said. “There are problems of screening issues because programs don’t have to comply with any standards.”
Doty said that when he helped push for legislation in his home state of California, one of the biggest problems faced was identifying organizations that are not designated by the USIA or CSIET.
“It’s impossible to know how many programs are out there,” he said. “Some are here today and gone tomorrow.
“Part of the problem comes from schools being unaware of the nature of this business. If the schools were more selective and knew what to look for in an exchange program, I think they would be diminishing their potential for problems.”
Doty said that non-designated, for-profit agencies are not necessarily bad.
“Some are excellent and have wonderful reputations,” he said.
Woodstown High School Principal Steve Merckel said being a non-profit agency doesn’t exclude everyone involved in it from making money.
“Non-profit doesn’t mean that the people who head them up don’t get big salaries,” he said.
To some school administrators, the addition of a foreign exchange student to the class rolls can be a culturally enriching experience for the entire student body, but others don’t accept them.
Kathleen Carfagno, administrative assistant to the Gloucester County Superintendent of Schools, said districts differ in their views on exchange students.
“We’ve talked about it with the local principals group. There are some schools, by policy, who say that we are not going to accept them,” she said. “Others say it’s a good opportunity to learn from someone from a foreign country.”
Merckel cited good experiences with students placed by both the 4-H and the Youth for Understanding organizations in the school district.
“They do an excellent job of monitoring students and working with families,” he said. “They usually take families known within the organization. I’ve worked with agencies before that don’t screen the kids or families well, and don’t give support when you have problems.”
Merkel said the school’s foreign exchange student policy, which was revised to limit exchange students to four per year, has helped the district avoid problems.
“Limiting the number you have in one year,” he said, “allows you to better give assistance to the students.”
* * *
The expense to the school district for enrolling a foreign student for a year is difficult to determine, but appears to be minimal. Henry Bermann, the board secretary and business administrator for the Pittsgrove district, said that the cost per student to attend Schalick is budgeted at $6,500.
“But we won’t know the actual audited cost until the following year,” he said.
One of the reasons the cost can’t be determined immediately is that state aid, which is granted per student enrolled, is often based on enrollment figures for the previous year. So in many cases, having an exchange student could result in increased state funding to a district.
An average of four or five exchange students a year may attend Kingsway Regional High School in Woolwich Township, according to Superintendent Terence Crowley.
“The biggest thing in my opinion,” he said, “is that it allows our kids to meet with other students from other countries.”
Crowley said there is another benefit to the exchange programs — Kingsway students have had the opportunity to study in other countries including Japan, Brazil and Ecuador.
Staff writer Cynthia Collier contributed to this report
Color added by editor | Aside from USIA being replaced by Department of State, the same issues raised in this article keep on occuring today. John Doty’s Pacific International was taken off CSIET’s approved list as late as 2012 due to severe breaches. This is not by any means a naive or innocent industry.
Von: Andreas Leisi | 04.05.2014
Bei der Gastfamilie unerwünscht, von der Koordinatorin als «Dreckskerl» bezeichnet: Der 16-jährige Konstantin wurde bei einer Schüleraustausch-Organisation zum Spielball von Geldinteressen.
Mit der Firma EF Education First reisen jährlich Millionen von jungen Erwachsenen ins Ausland. Die Angebote von EF verheissen unter anderem das hautnahe Kennenlernen anderer Länder und Kulturen, kombiniert mit dem Erlernen der Sprache. Beworben wird beispielsweise das zehn Monate dauernde High School Year in den USA von EF so: «Bist du bereit für das grosse Abenteuer? Während deines EF High School Years hast du die einmalige Chance neue Herausforderungen anzunehmen, viele nette Menschen kennen zu lernen, eine Fremdsprache zu erlernen und erwachsen zu werden.»
Ein Abenteuer und viele Herausforderungen hat zwischen September 2012 und Juni 2013 der damals 16-jährige Austauschschüler Konstantin im nordamerikanischen Kalifornien tatsächlich erlebt. «Es begann mit Verzögerungen, obwohl bei der Buchung bei EF Schweiz für den August ein Platz in einer Gastfamilie garantiert war», sagt die Mutter Franziska Stöcklin, die in Zürich lebt und für den USA-Aufenthalt ihres Sohnes 13’500 Franken bezahlte. «Konstantin konnte dann erst im September, drei Wochen nachdem die Schule bereits begonnen hatte, nach Kalifornien reisen. EF sagte uns, man habe früher keine Gastfamilie gefunden.»
Das Zuhause als Kontrollhölle
Die Probleme hielten an. Konstantin war in seinem neuen Zuhause von Beginn weg mit Vorwürfen konfrontiert: «Meine Gastmutter baute ein Kontrollsystem auf, verbot mir auszugehen, drohte mir mit Konsequenzen bei Alkoholkonsum und nahm mir mein Laptop und mein Handy weg», so der Austauschschüler im Rückblick. «Zudem behandelte sie mich kalt, und ich hatte nie das Gefühl, willkommen zu sein. Später erfuhr ich auch, dass sie mich beschuldigte, 500 Dollar von ihr gestohlen zu haben.»
Die Gastmutter und die Hauptkoordinatorin von EF in Kalifornien, Sandra Woods, standen dabei in permanentem Kontakt miteinander. Nach diversen Vorwürfen an die Adresse des Schweizer Austauschschülers drohte die Kündigung des EF-Programms und die frühzeitige Heimreise. Mutter Stöcklin sagt über ihr einziges Telefonat mit Woods: «Sie sagte mir, in Amerika würden Kinder nicht selbstständig Entscheide treffen. Hintergrund war, dass er nicht sofort gemeldet hatte, dass Konstantin nach der Schule nicht umgehend nach Hause ging.»
«She is very driven by money»
Es kam der Verdacht auf, dass die Hauptkoordinatorin von EF sehr daran interessiert war, Konstantin wegen Regelverstössen frühzeitig nach Hause schicken zu können, um einen anderen Schüler in der Gastfamilie platzieren zu können und mehrfache Provisionen einzustreichen. Diese Vorgehensweise wird durch den Ex-EF-Koordinator William Alexander bestätigt, der sich nach seiner Kündigung an das Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in Washington wandte.
Alexander wies darauf hin, dass Sandra Woods aus Profitgründen mehr Austauschschüler ins Land geholte hatte, als Plätze in Familien zur Verfügung standen. Sandra Woods sei eine «sehr unethische Person», die nicht mit jungen Austauschschülern arbeiten sollte. Und: «She is very driven by money.»
Zudem bestätigt Alexander, dass Woods gegenüber Konstantin eine persönliche Aversion hatte. Das ging gemäss Alexander so weit, dass sie einen anderen Schüler anstiftete, den Schweizer Schüler an eine Party mit Alkoholausschank einzuladen, um dann die Polizei anzurufen, den 16-Jährigen anzeigen zu lassen und ihn wegen dieses Vergehens nach Hause schicken zu können. William Alexander war es schliesslich, der für Konstantin eine neue Gastfamilie fand, in der er – diesmal glücklich und durchaus anpassungsfähig – sein EF Highschool Year zu Ende bringen konnte.
«He’s a punk»
Hinter den Kulissen erreichte der Fall nach verschiedenen Interventionen der Mutter eine höhere bürokratische Ebene. Danielle Grijalva, Direktorin des Komitees für Sicherheit der ausländischen Studenten in Kalifornien, wandte sich im Mai 2013 ebenfalls an das Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in Washington mit einer Beschwerde gegen Sandra Woods. Darin wird neben der allgemeinen Bemerkung, dass ausländische Austauschschüler immer wieder ausgenützt und schlecht behandelt würden («Abuse of foreign exchange students remains rampant») aus der SMS-Kommunikation zwischen Sandra Woods und William Alexander betreffend Konstantin zitiert. Darin äussert sich Woods unflätig über Konstantin: «I wish we could just send his ass home.» («Ich wünschte mir, wir könnten diesen A… einfach heimschicken. Er wird mir das ganze Jahr Probleme machen.») Oder: «He’s a punk.» («Er ist ein Dreckskerl.»)
In einem Artikel des «K-Tipps» gibt Grijalva zudem Folgendes zu Protokoll: «Das Problem von EF und ähnlichen Organisationen ist, dass sie nicht genug passende Gastfamilien finden. Deshalb werden die Kinder ständig hin- und hergeschoben.» Und: «Wenn es zu Problemen kommt, heisst es immer, die Schüler seien selber schuld – aber nie die Gastfamilie, der Betreuer vor Ort oder die Vermittlerorganisation.»
Grijalva kritisiert zudem das Besoldungssystem für EF-Betreuer, die auf Provisionsbasis arbeiteten. Pro Austauschschüler gebe es mindestens 300 Dollar. Je mehr Schüler EF-Betreuer unterbringen würden, desto mehr Boni bekämen sie. Und desto höher wird auch der Bonus pro Schüler.
Keine finanzielle Entschädigung
Zwischen der Mutter Franziska Stöcklin und der Zürcher Stelle von EF gab es am 19. März 2013 – ebenfalls erst nach diversen Interventionen der Mutter – ein Gespräch, bei dem EF Schweiz gemäss Stöcklin eingesehen habe, dass im Fall von Konstantin die einem von EF vermittelten Schüler zustehende Betreuung nicht funktionierte. «Zuvor wurde ich von EF Schweiz immer als Mutter behandelt, die einfach nicht einsehen will, dass sich ihr Sohn nicht an die Regeln hält. Eine tatsächliche Überprüfung vieler klarer Falschinformationen aus den USA machte EF nicht.» EF Schweiz habe bei dem besagten Gespräch auch akzeptiert, dass ihr Dienstleistungsversprechen nicht eingehalten wurde und die Kommunikation von Sandra Woods inakzeptabel sei. EF Schweiz hat in der Folge jedoch weder auf die Forderung der Mutter nach einer offiziellen Entschuldigung vor Konstantin reagiert, noch offerierte die Firma eine finanzielle Entschädigung.
Im Rahmen der Recherche für diesen Artikel nahm Mario Tschopp, Programmleiter EF High School Exchange Year, folgendermassen Stellung: «Der Fall ist uns bekannt, und wir haben die angezeigten internen Schritte unternommen. Wir bitten Sie jedoch um Verständnis dafür, dass wir aus Gründen des Persönlichkeitsschutzes zu Angelegenheiten, welche individuelle Kunden- und Arbeitsverhältnisse betreffen, in der Öffentlichkeit keine Stellung nehmen.» Damit bleibt unklar, ob Sandra Woods weiterhin in Kalifornien als Hauptkoordinatorin von EF tätig ist und Schweizer Austauschschüler betreut.
With the host family undesirable designated by the coordinator as a “bastard”: The 16-year-old Constantine was at a student exchange organization at the mercy of money interests.
Traveling with the company EF Education First year millions of young adults abroad. Offers by EF promised, among other things, the skin-like learning about other countries and cultures, combined with learning the language. Applied, for example, ten-month high school year in the United States of EF as: “Are you ready for the big adventure? During your EF High School Years you have to accept the new challenges unique opportunity to learn many nice people to learn a foreign language and to grow up. “
An adventure and many challenges has actually experienced between September 2012 and June 2013, the then 16-year-old exchange student Konstantin in North America California. “It started with delays, although when booking at EF Switzerland a place in a host family was guaranteed for August,” the Mother Frances Stöcklin, who lives in Zurich and paid 13,500 francs for the US whereabouts of her son says. “Constantine was then only in September three weeks after the school had already started to travel to California. EF told us that they had earlier found any family. “
The home inspection as hell
The problems continued. Constantine was gone confronted in his new home from the start reproaches: “My host mother built a system of control, forbade me to go out, threatened me with consequences of alcohol consumption and took my laptop and my phone away,” says the exchange student in retrospect. “In addition, she treated me cold, and I have never felt so welcome. Later I learned that she accused me of having stolen $ 500 from her. “
The host mother and the main coordinator of EF in California, Sandra Woods, therefore were in constant contact with each other. After several criticisms of the address of the Swiss exchange student threatened termination of the EF program and the early departure. Stöcklin mother says of her only phone call with Woods: “She told me that in America children would not independently make decisions. The background was that he had not immediately reported that Konstantin not immediately went home after school. “
“She is very driven by money»
It came on the suspicion that the main coordinator of EF was keen to send Konstantin by rule violations home early to place another student in a host family can be brushed and multiple commissions. This approach is confirmed by the ex-EF-coordinator William Alexander, who turned in his resignation to the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in Washington.
Alexander pointed out that Sandra Woods had brought more exchange students into the country for profit than there were in families. Sandra Woods was a “very unethical person” that should not work with young exchange students. And: “She is very driven by money.”
In addition, Alexander confirmed that Woods against Constantine had a personal aversion. So much so that they instigated another student to invite the Swiss students at a party serving alcohol, then call the police to display the 16-year-olds and to send him home for this offense according to Alexander. William Alexander was finally who found a new host family for Constantine, in which he – could bring his EF High School Year to end – this time happy and quite adaptable.
“He’s a punk»
Behind the scenes, the case reached a higher layer of bureaucracy after various interventions of the mother. Danielle Grijalva, director of the Committee for Safety of foreign students in California, turned in May 2013 also at the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in Washington with a complaint against Sandra Woods. This is in addition to the general remark that foreign exchange students would always exploited and mistreated (“Abuse of foreign exchange students remains rampant”) quotes from the SMS communication between Sandra Woods and William Alexander concerning Constantine. In it expresses Woods foul-mouthed about Constantine: “I wish We could just send his ass home.” (“I wish we could just send home this A … He will make me all year problems..”) Or, ” He’s a punk. “(” He’s a bastard. “)
In an article in the “K-Tips» Grijalva are also following the record: “The problem of EF and similar organizations, that they can not find enough suitable host families. . Therefore, the children are constantly back and forth “And:” If there is a problem, it always means the students are to blame – but never the host family, the Service Representative or the intermediary organization “.
Grijalva also criticized the system of remuneration for EF-workers, who worked on a commission basis. Per exchange students there were at least 300 dollars. The more students would accommodate EF-workers, the more bonuses they would get. And the higher is also the bonus per student.
No financial compensation
Between the Mother Frances Stocklin and the Zurich office of EF took place on March 19, 2013 – also after the mother various interventions – a conversation in which EF Switzerland according Stöcklin have come to see that in the fall of Constantinople the one mediated by EF students attributable care not work. “Before, I was always treated by EF Switzerland as a mother who just will not accept that her son does not follow the rules. An actual review of many plain misinformation from the United States did not make EF. “EF Switzerland have said at this week accepted that their service promise was not kept and the communication of Sandra Woods was unacceptable. EF Switzerland, however, has reacted subsequently either on the mother’s call for an official apology before Constantine, still offered the company a financial compensation.
EF is silent
As part of the research for this article, Mario Tschopp, program director EF High School Year Exchange, position as follows: “The case is known to us, and we have taken the next internal steps. However, we ask for your understanding that we take for reasons of protection of privacy on matters relating to individual customer and working conditions in the public no comment. “So it remains unclear whether Sandra Woods continues in California has been working as general coordinator of EF and Swiss exchange student care.
Thu Mar 15, 2012 12:58 PM EDT
By Anna Schecter Rock Center
Fifty high school foreign exchange students reported being sexually abused or harassed by a host parent during the 2010-2011 school year, according to data released by the State Department in response to an NBC News probe.
The Department says that this number is a tiny fraction of the 29,000 students who came to the United States as exchange students last year.
NBC News requested the data as part of a Rock Center investigation that aired Wednesday night.
Watch the full Rock Center investigation HERE.
Three students who said they were sexually abused by their host parents were featured in the report, which was the culmination of a six-month investigation into problems with the exchange program.
NBC News found that a lack of oversight can allow sexual predators to take advantage of the program. And when sexual abuse did happen, there is evidence that the students go back to their home countries with little or no support from the exchange organizations or the State Department.
Over 200,000 students from around the world have come to America to experience the culture and attend a U.S. high school over the past decade. They are placed with host families by non-profit organizations that are approved by the State Department to find homes for them.
There is an office of 60 people in charge of monitoring the more the 25,000 students that come each year, according to State Department spokesperson Toria Nuland.
Critics say that number is too small, and the Department’s push to bring in as many students as possible has made it impossible for it to ensure each student is placed in a safe and nurturing host family.
“Over the past decade the people at the State Department who were responsible for managing this program were praised and encouraged because the size of the program was growing. If they reduced the number of students, the program would be safer,” said Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, a non-profit research organization.
The program dates back to the 1960’s, but the Department said it only started compiling data about allegations of sexual abuse and harassment in 2009 after the Inspector General issued a scathing report on the program.
Stanley Colvin who used to be in charge of youth exchange programs left after 2009.
Of the 66 total cases of sexual harassment or abuse involving a student, nine did not involve a member of the host family, but rather a classmate, friend, neighbor or stranger, and one allegation was against the exchange student.
In all allegations involving the host family, the [organization] must remove the student immediately to a safe home and notify local authorities–police and/or child protective services–and the Department of State, according to the Department’s regulations.
There is no language in the regulations about getting counseling for the teens that do get abused, or staying in contact with the teen after he or she goes home.
Parallel to any law enforcement investigation, the Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA) is supposed to gather information to determine whether the sponsor has violated any regulations.
Nuland said that ECA has terminated a number of exchange organizations over the past six months and exacted fines on organizations that failed to conduct background checks on host families, as required by law.
“When they have cut corners in other ways we have fined sponsoring organizations, we’ve cut back their access to the program, et cetera. But these are the kinds of measures that we’re continuing to hone and reform,” Nuland said.
“The vast majority of these kids have a rich, enormously gratifying experience that lasts with them for a lifetime, said Nuland. “That doesn’t change the fact that we have to have zero tolerance for any of these cases, even one child abused is one too many. And it is our job to fix this and we will.”
Editor’s Note: Click here to watch Kate Snow’s full report, Culture Shock, which aired on Rock Center with Brian Williams.
This article has been removed from the original site
By Leslie Wolf Branscomb
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
April 26, 2003
A venerable San Diego-based student exchange organization has been reprimanded by the State Department for violating federal regulations that protect students visiting from abroad. The punishment was based on complaints filed by three foreign students who lived in San Diego until recently. They complained of being shuttled from home to home, forced into overcrowded and dirty houses, and – in the worst case – one was sexually molested by his host.
The State Department confirmed this week that American Intercultural Student Exchange of La Jolla, or AISE, has been formally sanctioned, put on probation for a year and required to implement a corrective plan.
“It comes as a wake-up call,” said Anne Ring, president of the organization, which she helped found in 1981.
The nonprofit organization bills itself as the nation’s third-largest student exchange program.
“It means they’re going to obviously be watching us closely, which is fine,” she said. “We’ve always had such a good reputation. I hope, and I know, that it won’t happen again.”
Ring said two employees – a local area representative and the regional coordinator for the Western states – have resigned under mutual agreement with the company.
The organization has hired a new U.S. director of field services, who will be in charge of ensuring that all employees are trained and the paperwork is done, she said.
The sanctions were based on the accusations of students from Thailand, Denmark and Germany who at one point lived in the same Tierrasanta home.
Through a classmate at Serra High School, they met a lawyer, Sally Arguilez Smith, who alerted the State Department to the problems the three were experiencing.
“Exchange students bring so much to our country, and they should be treated well, and know that the laws protect them,” Smith said upon learning of the sanctions. “AISE has acted atrociously, and they deserved more serious sanctions.”
One of the students is living with Smith. Another has moved to Los Angeles County and the third has gone home.
Denis Sladkov, an 18-year-old from Germany, said he lived in five homes in five months. “It seems like they just want to take as many exchange students as possible and, then, when they get here, find a home,” Sladkov said.
At his first home in Twentynine Palms, Sladkov said, there were fire ants in his bed and the house smelled of dirty dogs. Then, he said, he was placed with a couple that had marital and drug problems.
He was eventually moved to a Navy housing complex in Tierrasanta, where he lived with Racheal Rivera and her husband, their four young children and two other exchange students.
The situation was tense, Sladkov said, and the students spent most of their time doing housework and child care for the hosts, who seemed to not have the time or money to feed and care for the teenagers.
Sladkov said that he, like the others, was threatened with deportation by various employees of the organization when he complained.
Unhappy and tired of moving, Sladkov dropped out of school and returned to Germany in January.
The State Department identified Racheal Rivera as one of the program’s employees who violated federal rules by having more than one student per home and not keeping complete files on the students.
Rivera said this year that the organization kept dumping students on her. “They said it was my job, and if I didn’t take them they would have no place to go,” she said.
One home to another
Mary Vattanasiriporn, a 16-year-old from Thailand, lived with four families in as many months.Her first hosts, the Holts, lived in the northern Montana town of Havre. They had nine children of their own, and Mary shared a room with a student from China.
Mary said the house was filthy. They had no door locks, no privacy and the family’s teenage boys sometimes barged in while they showered. The girls held the door shut for each other when they used the bathroom and slept in their clothes.
Upon hearing Mary’s complaints, her parents tracked down a Thai girl who lived with the Holts the year before. She e-mailed them her photos of the Holt house, which showed rooms piled high with debris and walls with exposed wiring and insulation.
American Intercultural Student Exchange representative Penny Velk was sent to take the two girls from the home. Velk said she had to call the police when the host father became angry, and she was fired from the organization as a result.
Roger Holt said afterward that his house is “pretty shabby” and might seem “chaotic” to an outsider. But Holt said his family would rather take students sightseeing than clean house.
“We’re not into cars and clothes and fancy houses,” Holt said.
He contends the exchange students were spoiled and misled by recruiters. “AISE sells a package to the kids that doesn’t bear a whole lot of resemblance to reality,” Holt said. “Everyone thinks they’re going to Hollywood or Disneyland, then they end up in the hinterlands.”
Velk took the girls to the home of Kelly Toldness in Havre. Toldness recalled that Mary seemed surprised to find clean drinking glasses in her kitchen, and it pained her to think of what the girls’ first impression of America had been.
Toldness wanted to become their host, but said a student exchange representative who was a friend of the Holts accused her of kidnapping and called her home “a hostile environment.” The girls were removed by the organization 10 days later.
Mary ended up with the Riveras. There, she said, she slept in an unheated garage with newspaper covering the windows and was sick all winter.
Smith asked Mary to come live with her.
Smith said Rivera agreed. But it made Smith angry that no one from the exchange organization interviewed her or inspected her home for a month.
“You don’t just hand a kid over to a total stranger in a foreign country,” Smith said.
A student exchange representative at one point sent Mary an e-mail asking where she was and requesting her new host’s name and address. Mary later received an anonymous phone call warning her to stop complaining about the organization.
The boy from Denmark also lived with Smith briefly, before his parents sent him to live with family friends in Pomona.His father said their son dreamed of playing high school football in America, so they enrolled him in the student exchange program.
“It’s quite a glossy, shiny literature which assures us that our children will be taken care of, that it’s safe and they will have a good experience in the U.S.,” said the boy’s father.
The teen’s parents were concerned when their son was placed with a 53-year-old single man in Riverside, but student exchange officials vouched for David Goodhead.
“They said he was a wonderful man who really would give your children a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” the father said.
The boy was in the United States for three weeks when Goodhead molested him while camping in Yosemite. (It is the policy of the Union-Tribune to withhold the names of minors who are victims of sexual assault.)
Because Goodhead insisted that the student speak English when calling home, the boy surreptitiously sent a text message in Danish on his mobile phone to inform his parents about what had happened.
His parents said the student exchange organization did not respond to their frantic phone calls for 48 hours, despite assurances that emergencies are handled around the clock.
Goodhead was arrested and the boy removed from his custody. But, the father said, nearly a week passed before the exchange organization told them where his son was taken.
Goodhead was charged in U.S. District Court with two misdemeanor counts of engaging in unsolicited sexual conduct. On Feb. 11, he pleaded guilty to one of the charges, and is scheduled to be sentenced next month. He could receive up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Goodhead is free on bail and maintains a Web site with photos and descriptions of his nine previous exchange students. All are European boys, most of them blond like the student from Denmark, whose picture has been removed.
Laurel O’Rourke, the organization’s director of counseling, said the company does not do background checks on potential hosts, but did check on Goodhead after his arrest.
“He has hosted before and there had never ever been any sort of sexual innuendo,” she said. However, O’Rourke said, “He won’t have another student of ours.”
The Danish boy’s new host mother, Nancy Osgood, said she expected the exchange organization to inspect her home thoroughly.
But, she said, the inspection was cursory and the representative didn’t even ask to see where the boy would sleep. “It seems like they’re moving these kids around like chess pieces,” she said later.
Penny Velk, the former Montana representative, said she wasn’t well-screened before hosting her first student. “This woman just came in and glanced around and said, ‘Fine,’ ” Velk said. “She said she had to place three kids, and anybody who wanted a kid, she was going to give it to them.”
Velk said her daughter was an exchange student with the program last year in Australia, and she was moved three times. She said her daughter’s first host father was an alcoholic who made passes at the girl, and the second family spoke only Portuguese.
“There’s a total lack of communication,” Velk said of the program. “They just place kids and if they’ve got their money, they don’t give a damn.
“Now our son wants to be an exchange student, and I just can’t see spending $10,000 and you don’t know if you’re going to end up in a really rotten home or a nice home,” Velk said.
Thousands of students
The three students who complained to the State Department said their families paid between $7,000 and $10,000 for the exchange program.Student exchange spokeswoman Doris Lee McCoy said the company collects about $2,000 per student and still must raise funds to pay for advertising and staff.
The remainder of the fee, she said, is collected by the overseas agencies that recruit the foreign students.
Host families are not paid.
There are now about 32,000 high school students nationwide enrolled in foreign exchange programs with 75 agencies, according to Stanley Colvin, the State Department’s coordinator of foreign exchange programs.
“With that many students, there’s going to be an occasional dust-up,” Colvin said. “By and large, high school exchanges are not problematic.”
The State Department typically receives up to 10 complaints a year, he said. So for three to come from one organization was notable, and that’s what prompted the investigation, Colvin said.
The organization said it has arranged exchanges for more than 30,000 students. “The vast majority have wonderful experiences, thanks mainly to the hospitality and generosity of the American families,” said Ring.
American Intercultural Student Exchange officials said they usually bring about 3,000 foreign students to the United States a year, but that number has dropped to fewer than 1,000 this school year.
They attribute the decline to parents’ unwillingness to let their children travel overseas after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Former employees say Americans’ fear of foreigners has made it increasingly difficult to find host families.
The organization’s officials declined to discuss individual students, citing privacy concerns.
However, counselor O’Rourke said most student complaints can be attributed to homesickness, culture shock or the teens’ misconception that all Americans live like the rich celebrities they see on TV.
Student unhappiness peaks right around the holidays, O’Rourke said, but most problems are soon resolved with counseling and “tender loving care.”
Organization spokeswoman Doris Lee McCoy said teen-agers tend to be volatile, and some situations are made worse by language barriers and unrealistic expectations. “We have had some students that were pretty pampered” in their home countries, she said.
“Yes, there can be a few glitches. We’re dealing with human beings and they’re not perfect,” McCoy said. “But I know that by the end they will be homesick for their American families, and they will have learned more in that one year than ever before.”
(619) 498-6630; firstname.lastname@example.org
By Sonia Moghe | Posted: Monday, August 28, 2006 12:00 am | My Plainview
MANSFIELD, Texas — South Korean student Jun Young Kim simply wanted to go to a public high school in America and practice English with friends.
But when he got to America, after his family paid nearly $13,000 to get him into a cultural exchange program, the 16-year-old found that he could not attend a local public school as promised. Then he learned he had to pay even more money to attend a private school.
“I don’t know why they need money like that much,” said Kim, whose stay with a Pennsylvania family ended in May. “I thought this money is for a host family, but they don’t get any money. And what is that money for? School is free, and room is free. That’s ridiculous.”
Kim’s case, involving a Texas exchange program, is one of several examples of programs failing to make the most basic arrangements for students. While most of the 111 U.S. exchange programs report no such problems, the Department of State has ordered a halt to a handful of programs that have left students stuck in hotels or otherwise in limbo.
“When these exchange programs operate under sloppiness and greed, that’s when these accidents can happen and that’s why they do,” said Danielle Grijalva, who once placed exchange students in homes for a Texas-based exchange program but is now director of a watchdog group that looks out for the safety of the students.
Some cases of foreign exchange student abuse with other programs have surfaced in recent years, including one involving Paul Stone of Berea, Ky., who pleaded guilty in April to sodomizing a 15-year-old Taiwanese girl his family hosted.
“Students arriving without homes, forced to live in basements, placed in homes of convicted felons and registered sex offenders is not cultural exchange,” Grijalva said.
In Kim’s case, Mansfield-based United Students Association Inc., a Christian cultural exchange program, had not officially secured a public school for Kim in Allentown, Pa.
The program is one of five U.S. high school programs that have been told by the State Department to withdraw their exchange visitor program designations in recent years.
Moacir Rodrigues, executive director of USA Inc., said the few instances where students were left without homes or schools were due to extreme circumstances and rarely happen.
“Families change their minds – it happens all the time,” he said. “This is a minority of cases.”
Rodrigues also said the group has little control over the final fee charged to students in the program. He said USA Inc. only charged between $3,500 and $3,850 in the past two years for the program, but representatives in 29 countries can charge whatever commission they please.
“I don’t see and I don’t know how much people charge,” he said. “They don’t spend it with me.”
Until earlier this year, Rodrigues brought in thousands of students using J-1 visas, which are issued as part of the Department of State’s exchange visitor program. Organizations that bring students to the U.S. through this program are monitored by the State Department.
In April, the State Department revoked USA Inc.’s designation that allowed it to bring in foreign students with J-1 visas because the program did not meet required standards. Stanley Colvin, who directs the exchange coordination and designation program for the State Department, said the program left several students living in hotels without host families or schools for weeks.
By the end of August, USA Inc. planned to bring in about 80 students by using F-1 visas, which are issued by the Department of Homeland Security and do not require students to have housing or schools set up prior to arriving in the U.S.
Colvin said USA Inc. also failed to have adequately trained staff.
Rodrigues would not go into specifics about how he trains his staff, who help him place students with host families, but said that he trusts them.
“They’re all Christians,” he said. “They’re all fine.”
Barbara Phillips, Kim’s host mother in Pennsylvania, said USA Inc. staff called her using her church’s member directory and asked if they could be a host family just days before he arrived in the U.S. Phillips said she was given 24 hours to make a decision.
“Right from the start I was skeptical about how legitimate they were,” she said. “It almost looks like they’re going from church to church recruiting families that way.”
Tina Sweet, a program development director in the Allentown area who called Phillips, said she only uses church directories with permission from the churches.
The Allentown couple accused by the state of scamming foreign exchange students and area Christian schools out of more than $130,000 say the trouble stems from bad business moves, not illegal behavior.
“Finances are just not our cup of tea,” Tina Sweet said earlier this week.
She also denied allegations made by the state attorney general’s office in a lawsuit that she and her husband, Timothy, had subjected students to “substandard” conditions, including threats and forcing them to find their own way home from local malls.
Her husband said they wanted to do right by the students.
“We have the thing to help people,” he said. “That’s just our nature.”
The attorney general’s office filed its lawsuit against the Sweets last Thursday, the same day Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin confirmed his office is investigating the couple.
A man who didn’t identify himself answered the Sweets’ phone after the suit was filed said the Sweets weren’t there, and referred calls to their attorney. The attorney, Robert Rust, later agreed to set up an interview with his clients at their west Allentown home.
Tina Sweet said she decided to help find host families and schools for exchange students after hosting a Hungarian girl about 10 years ago.
She said she worked for various exchange agencies over the years, including a stint placing students in this region for a Texas-based nonprofit group called United Students Association.
While the Sweets were working for United Students Association, the group lost its certification to place students in public schools from the U.S. State Department.
The group can still place students in private schools through a separate visa program, which is subject to less government oversight.
Darlene Kirk, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said the group lost its certification because of complaints that students were brought to this country without arrangements for schooling or host families.
Tina Sweet and Moacir Rodrigues, United Students Association’s executive director, blame each other for those problems.
“They did not complete the job,” Rodrigues said. “The job was to place students in Christian homes … and to take care of them.
“I lost my designation because of what they did.”
Sweet said Rodrigues sent students here before she’d had time to find homes for them. She said she continued working with him out of “loyalty.”
“At that point, we were just trying to make matches,” she said.
Exchange students, sometimes as many as eight at a time, have stayed at the Sweets’ home over the years. The Sweets also have several children of their own and foster children.
Some of the students stayed in basement bedrooms. The Sweets declined to allow a Morning Call photographer to take pictures of the rooms, saying they’ve been changed into offices since then. They did allow a reporter and photographer to see the rooms, though, to verify they were finished and heated.
Sweet acknowledged that many of the allegations made in the state’s lawsuit are at least partially true, but said they lack the “context” to show students weren’t mistreated.
She said she did periodically threaten to send students back to their home country, for instance, but typically only did so to get students to behave.
She also said foreign students in her care went places unsupervised, but denied there’s anything wrong with that.
“Their parents sent them halfway around the world unsupervised,” she said. “Why can’t they go to the mall unsupervised?”
The Sweets set up their own company, which has been called both United Student Exchange and United International Studies, a little more than a year ago.
It has not been certified to place students in public schools; instead, it places students in schools such as Bethlehem Catholic High School, Lehigh Valley Christian High School and Faith Christian Academy in Sellersville, Bucks County.
According to court papers, the Sweets charged foreign students $3,500 to be placed in a school, another $2,500 to be paid to the host family, and additional money for tuition.
In its lawsuit, the attorney general’s office accused the Sweets of not passing along tuition and host family fees paid to them for dozens of students. The suit seeks to recoup those funds. The students were recruited by the Human Centre, a company with offices in South Korea and Australia.
Court papers say the Human Centre turned over records showing it referred 24 students and transferred nearly $134,000 by wire and check to the Sweets.
Tina Sweet said the records are faulty or faked.
“Anybody can create a spreadsheet,” she said.
She said it’s really the Human Centre that owes her and her husband money, claiming it never paid for many of the students.
She said she spent months forgiving bills left unpaid by Centre Chief Executive Officer Edwin Hong, thinking he’d eventually pay up; she also said she took $20,000 she’d gotten from other exchange students and used it to help cover various expenses.
“I don’t think what I did was wrong,” she said. “I think it was a bad business choice.”
Hong, in a phone interview from his office in Australia, said the records he gave the attorney general’s office are accurate.
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“I would be very stupid turning over something fabricated,” he said.
As the Sweets’ troubles developed, exchange students, area families who’ve hosted students and school officials have complained about their operation.
As part of the state’s legal filing, a judge issued an injunction barring the Sweets from bringing in any new students and largely freezing their bank accounts. There are no foreign students living with them now.
In a lawsuit, the state attorney
general’s office said Timothy and Tina Sweet, an Allentown couple who ran a business called United Student Exchange, did the following:
Improperly handled $130,000 meant to cover Christian school tuition and other expenses of foreign exchange students.
Subjected some students to
Left students unsupervised at malls on weekends.
Threatened to send students back home and to keep their money.
“Would you be willing voluntarily to inform the exchange visitor
in advance of any religious affiliations of household members? (Y/N)
Would any member of the household have difficulty hosting a
student whose religious beliefs were different from their own? (Y/N)
Note: A host family may want the exchange visitor to attend one or more religious services or programs with the family. The exchange visitor cannot be required to do so, but may decide to experience this facet of U.S. culture at his or her discretion.”
The Times Tribune | BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL (STAFF WRITER) | Published: October 23, 2009
Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2009:07:22 16:15:52
Insufficient oversight and resources plague the department responsible for overseeing foreign-exchange student programs nationwide, a report released Thursday found.
The probe by the U.S. Office of Inspector General was initiated after up to 12 students alleged they were neglected after being placed in Scranton-area homes during the 2008-09 school year. The case exposed the national lack of oversight and significant lapses in background checks for hosts of the 30,000 international students who come to the U.S. each year.
In the Scranton case, local coordinator Edna Burgette allegedly placed students in homes without completing background checks and shuffled some students from home to home.
The students told investigators they lived in filthy homes, some of which were later condemned. Several said they were living with an ex-convict, and at least one student required medical attention for lack of adequate nutrition. All said Ms. Burgette, now the former area coordinator for San Francisco-based Aspect Foundation, ignored their complaints, even though she was paid by Aspect to place the students and check up on them.
Last summer, Ms. Burgette was charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of children. She was fired when Aspect learned of the allegations.
The Department of State has penalized Aspect. The department is limiting the number of student visas Aspect can receive in 2009-10 by 15 percent, leading to a potential $540,000 loss of revenue.
The inspector’s report, while it did not mention the Scranton case, made several recommendations that could have made a difference in Northeast Pennsylvania.
According to the report, individuals within the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, responsible for overseeing exchanges, have not been directly monitoring students and instead were relying on the private educational associations, such as Aspect, to oversee students.
“There is an inherent danger in ascribing major responsibilities without clear guidance and support,” the report stated.
Aspect relied on Ms. Burgette to report problems and to make sure students were safe, and she did neither, Aspect officials have previously stated.
The report recommends the department be given adequate resources to conduct periodic unannounced site visits, and to establish a database to record student complaints and incidents so it is easier track problems.
The report also calls for national criminal history background checks to be given to potential host families.
Background checks vary significantly across the country, from not being done at all or relying on references from family and neighbors, to comprehensive checks, said Danielle Grijalva, director of the California-based Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students.
“You’ve got to do it right the first time,” she said.
While Ms. Grijalva had some reservations about the report, she said if taken seriously it could make a difference in the overall quality and safety of foreign-exchange programs.
“The problems will only repeat themselves if we do not get serious and make changes,” she said.
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who has called for an overhaul in exchange program oversight, said incidents in Scranton “were allowed to happen, in part, because of a lack of clear regulations that allowed sponsor organizations to interpret the rules in a manner that ultimately endangered these students.”
The “real measure of progress will be what specific steps are taken to prevent this problem from happening again.”
Contact the writer: email@example.com
- 2009 May 26: Casey Urges Secretary Clinton to Investigate U.S. Youth Exchange Programs
- 2009 May 27: Host families probed after reports of student neglect
- 2009 May 28: Grand jury enters exchange student neglect case
- 2009 May 28: Foreign exchange students testify in neglect investigation
- 2009 May 30: U.S. State Department to investigate local exchange student treatment
- 2009 May 31: Local neglect allegations open door to a world where students are shuffled from home to home
- 2009 Jun 2: Enrollment in foreign exchange program suspended
- 2009 Jun 2: Welcome to America (Please Ignore the Dog Shit)
- 2009 Jun 03: Casey Presses State Department on Mistreatment of Foreign Exchange Students
- 2009 Jun 3: AG seeks info from exchange students in neglect case
- 2009 Jun 4: Casey vows to fix flaws in exchange student oversight
- 2009 Jun 7: Exchange student scandal spurs calls for reforms
- 2009 Jun 26: Casey to OMB: Give State Department More Oversight in Protecting Foreign Exchange Students
- 2009 Jul 11: DA’s office: charges warranted in exchange student neglect
- 2009 Jul 16: Exchange students live American nightmare
- 2009 Jul 16: Norske Anne opplevde utvekslingsmareritt i USA
- 2009 Jul 19: Exchange student neglect happened a decade ago, host parent says
- 2009 Jul 21: Jeg var to minutter fra å reise hjem
- 2009 Jul 21: Warrant of Arrest for Edna Mary Burgette
- 2009 Jul 23: Horror stories from exchange students placed by SF non-profit worker
- 2009 Jul 23: Exchange students say complaints were ignored by program officials
- 2009 Sep 30: Casey Urges State Department to Strengthen Regulations to Protect Foreign Exchange Students
- 2009 Oct 16: US Department of State: Management Review of Youth Programs Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs: Report Number ISP-I-10-16, October 2009
- 2009 Oct 22: Casey: IG Report on Failures in Exchange Student Program a Key Step
(New York – WABC, November 20, 2007) (WABC) — The U.S. State Department is investigating whether a major non-profit foreign exchange agency violated regulations by not having proper homes in place for visiting students. Local families who thought they’d have kids for a few weeks say they got stuck with students who had nowhere to go.
The Investigators Sarah Wallace has more on this exclusive story.
State Department regulations are clear — before a foreign exchange student comes to in the United States the sponsoring agency is supposed to have secured a home placement and a school placement for the year.
Well now there are allegations that an agency called ASSE International has blatantly violated those regulations. ASSE denies it.
“I just think it’s wrong. It’s wrong all around ” said Michele Renaud.
Michele Renaud thought it would be a great experience for her son TJ to have foreign visitors. So this summer, she welcomed Hee-Sung from Korea, to stay while he attended an English language camp in Putnam County. She also took in Lenny from France — both students would then go to a different, permanent home for the school year.
Sarah Wallace: “Your understanding was you’d have them for how long?” Michele: “Four weeks.”
The sponsoring agency — ASSE International — is headquartered in California, with area representatives in several states, including New York.
“They did not have placement for either one of my boys … And could I keep them for a few more days. … And it was going on the third month,” Michele said.
Ira Drescher and his family, who also live in Putnam County, took in three exchange students — two from Japan, and one from France.
“We found out none of them had placement. I mean we were told they all had placement and they’d be here for a month,” Ira said.
The Dreschers say they scrambled to get the students enrolled in the local school because ASSE had done nothing. Federal regulations require that a school placement is secured before students arrive.
Michele Renaud echoes the Dreschers. “We went to the school. They were not even registered. The school didn’t even have their names,” she said.
“Those students, before they departed their home country, were supposed to be promised a properly screened and secured host family, as well as a high school,” Danelle Grijalva said.
Danelle Grijalva says her Internet based watchdog group has received complaints about ASSE from families in nine different states.
Independently, we received several e-mails and phone calls. One area representative writes: “This has been a bait and switch program from the beginning.”
“To get them here and have them fend for themselves and just hope that the temporary families fall in love with them is a recipe for disaster,” Danelle said.
In Buffalo, New York we heard a disturbing case of a young girl from Thailand happily living in a temporary house, then placed by ASSE with a family living in a mobile home on the side of the road in the Adirondacks.
“She was distraught. She was crying,” Barbara said.
Barbara Costuros says she drove four hours each way to bring 18-year-old Sufrete back to Buffalo. “It was dirty … I see mice … yes I was scared” Sufrete said.
Sufrete says she was told by ASSE she’d be sent back to Thailand if she didn’t stay in the Adirondacks. But her parents, who paid more than $10,000 to the agency, had had enough. She flew home.
ASSE declined to be interviewed but released this statement: “ASSE is has always been committed to full compliance with all U.S. Department of State regulatory requirements governing its programs.”
When we visited the Dreschers several weeks ago, they decided to keep their French student for the year. But with two children of their own, the family just could not keep the other students.
“They start school, they get upset. It’s very disturbing to them. … All of them is too much,” Ira said.
Michele Renaud still had one of her foreign students waiting for a permanent placement,as well.
“It just feels that we were lied to … blatantly lied to,” Michele said.
The students from Putnam County have all now been placed in permanent homes, although a couple of them say they found families on their own without ASSE’s help.
The Agency claims as of a few weeks ago, all its students had been placed.
Yahoo | November 30, 2012 | By Holbrock Mohr | Associated Press
JACKSON – (AP) An organization has lost its government designation to bring foreign exchange students to the United States after facing allegations of mismanagement and lax oversight that included students being placed in homes where they were sexually abused.
State Department spokeswoman Susan Pittman told The Associated Press that Pacific Intercultural Exchange, or PIE, was removed from the department’s list of official sponsors.
State Department officials haven’t said exactly what problems led to PIE’s removal, but documents and emails obtained by AP in July showed allegations of serious problems, including sexual abuse by host fathers. The documents also showed that the State Department had concerns about PIE’s operations for years.
The San Diego-based company was part of a network of organizations that brings close to 30,000 high school students to the U.S. annually.
PIE and other sponsors charge the students’ families thousands of dollars to arrange for them to live in American households and go to high school. The U.S. government also gives grants to students from some countries.
PIE was suspended from the program in July. The company challenged the suspension, but it was upheld during an administrative appeals process. The suspension affected more than 455 students from 18 countries for this school year.
The State Department also decided at that time to deny PIE’s sponsor re-designation, which comes up for renewal every two years.
The company faced a deadline earlier this month to appeal the decision, but decided not to challenge it, meaning the company was removed from the sponsor list, Pittman said.
“The department has had long-standing concerns that PIE operated its exchange program in a manner that put at risk the health, safety and welfare of student participants,” Pittman said. “The department remains vigilant in its oversight of exchange visitor program sponsors to ensure that the participants’ experiences are safe and rewarding.”
Two of the most serious cases of problems involved host fathers convicted of sexually abusing exchange students, including one in which PIE was accused of failing to do an adequate background check.
In one of the sexual abuse cases, PIE host father Craig Steven Ley of Beaverton, Oregon, pleaded guilty in 2010 to sexually abusing a German boy. PIE didn’t do an adequate background check which would have disclosed Ley had a felony record for using another exchange student in a bogus insurance claim, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the student.
PIE President John Doty testified in September as part of the lawsuit that his company had known since 2006 that Ley was a convicted felon, though he denied personal knowledge of Ley’s criminal record and said his company didn’t know the prior crime involved an exchange student.
The company also tried to falsify records in 2010 to conceal the fact that it brought a 17-year-old girl from Kazakhstan to Maryland without having her registered for school, according to documents reviewed by AP. The students are supposed to be registered for school before coming to the U.S. The girl ended up going home disappointed and distraught.
Officials in Louisiana were so alarmed by the living conditions of PIE students that in 2010 the Vermillion Parish School Board banned the company from placing students in the district.
Doty, the PIE president, told his staff in a 2006 email that the company narrowly dodged sanctions for canceling “a number” of students who signed up to participate in 2005. The email also said Doty went to Washington D.C., in 2006 to meet with State Department officials because he was again faced with canceling participants, this time 113 Korean students.
PIE’s website says it has brought more than 25,000 students to the U.S. since the 1970s.
The company generated nearly $3.5 million from October 2009 to September 2010, according to a 2011 IRS filing required of nonprofit organizations. About $1.26 million was from government contributions or grants, but the majority of the company’s money, about $2.26 million, came from its foreign program fees, according to the document. The company’s website says it has facilitated exchanges for more than 25,000 high school students since the 1970s.
2006 Feb 24: U.S. Increases Protection for Foreign Teens
2008 May 07: Agencies seek to silence child protection group (article about this case)
2010 Apr 08: Vermilion Parish School Board “Approved terminating the Board’s relationship with Pacific Intercultural Exchange for the placement of foreign exchange students at parish high schools.”
2010 Apr 16: Shernon N James deemed predator
2012 Jul 30: Utvekslingsåret ble et mareritt (“Live kontaktet utvekslingsorganisasjonen Pacific Intercultural Exchange (PIE). Der fikk hun beskjed om at hun måtte sette seg ned med familien og ordne opp selv.”)
2012 Aug 02: US student exchange group hits a hurdle (“The San Diego-based Pacific Intercultural Exchange (PIE) has been suspended from the US visa program used by students on exchange trips over undisclosed rule violations.”)
2012 Nov 30: Non-Redesignation of Secondary School Student Exchange Sponsor (“The Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) has removed Pacific Intercultural Exchange (PIE) of San Diego from its list of designated Secondary School Student Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) sponsors, effective November 28, 2012.”)
2012 Dec 06: AP: Exchange student sponsor out over abuse claims
2006-2013: Closed Sanction cases – 2013
I discovered this today. You will be taking the chance of getting fined for US$ 2500 for EACH egg you bring into the USA. What a nice surprise that would be??
Kinder Chocolate Eggs are Prohibited
Kinder chocolate eggs are prohibited as an export to the U.S. because the toy surprise hidden inside poses a choking and aspiration hazard in children younger than three years of age. The Kinder eggs are hollow milk chocolate eggs about the size of a large hen’s egg and are usually packaged in a colorful foil wrapper. The toy within the egg is contained in an oval-shaped plastic capsule and has small parts that require assembly. Each egg contains a different toy.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has determined that this product fails to meet small parts requirements for children less than three years of age. Additional information regarding unsafe toys and product recall announcements can be found at the CPSC website. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the CPSC work jointly to ensure the safety of imported goods by examining, sampling and testing products that may present substantial hazards.
§ Sec. 62. 25 Secondary school students.
(f) Student enrollment.
(2) Under no circumstance may a sponsor facilitate the entry into the United States of an exchange student for whom a written school placement has not been secured.
- theguardian.com, Thursday 2 October 2014 22.08 BST
Russian authorities have cancelled a long-running foreign exchange program with the United States, alleging that a gay couple persuaded a young man to stay with them and apply for asylum after he was meant to return home.
In announcing the end of Russia’s participation in the US government-run Future Leaders Exchange (Flex) program, children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov claimed that two gay men became the legal guardians of a Russian student, after the student left his original host family and stayed in America when the school year ended in May.
“One of the reasons [for the decision] was the gross violation by the host country, the United States, of the obligation to unconditionally return students from Russia who travel there to study,” Astakhov wrote on his Twitter account on Wednesday.
US ambassador to Russia John Tefft said in a statement the Russian government had canceled its participation in Flex, the largest educational exchange program between the two countries, for 2015-16. Since it was founded in 1992, the state department-financed program has brought 23,000 students aged 15 to 17 from former Soviet countries to study in American schools and live with local families for one academic year, including about 8,000 students from Russia.
Astakhov said in an interview with the official government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that the student, who was born in 1997, moved in with two men in Michigan, “and they gradually developed – how can I say this carefully – close friendly relations.”
“The men wanted to register their guardianship over him and have him live with them, and he agreed,” he said.
Russian state news agency Itar-Tass reported that the student met the gay couple, elderly veterans who had previously adopted two American boys, in church, quoting legal representatives of the Russian embassy in the United States. The couple offered to become his immigration sponsors and pay for him to study at Harvard University, it reported.
“Under their influence and with the permission of his American host family, the young Russian turned himself in to US immigration authorities and asked for asylum, saying that he was gay,” Itar-Tass reported.
Human rights organisations have accused the Russian government of promoting discrimination following a 2013 law against gay propaganda, and this year the country passed legislation banning the adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples or single people in countries where same-sex marriage is legal. Previously, Russia also banned all adoptions by US citizens.
Foreign ministry human rights commissioner Konstantin Dolgov said in a statement on Wednesday that the Flex program had “created conditions for getting around Russian law, such as the ban on adoptions by American citizens, including those of non-traditional orientation … Such an incident unfortunately took place.”
Itar-Tass reported that the student met with his Russian mother in the presence of local lawyers to tell her he was seeking asylum. “As far as the embassy knows, these lawyers themselves observe a non-traditional sexual orientation,” the agency wrote. During the meeting, his mother “at times cried and took medicine, at other times was happy for some reason”, it quoted embassy representatives as saying.
David Patton, executive vice-president of American Councils for International Education, which administers the Flex program, said the Michigan student had been placed in a “traditional home stay”. If students refuse to leave after the program, it becomes an “immigration-naturalisation issue”, he said.
“Over years of the Flex program and 8,000 participants, the non-returnee rate is less than 1%, but human beings are human beings and can’t always be controlled, and there are occasions when people decide to stay,” Patton said. “At that point we are unable, we have no authority to put them on a plane.”
According to Astakhov, at least 15 Russians have stayed in the United States over the years after traveling there on various exchange programs.
Anton Meshkov, a 2012-2013 Flex participant, said the fact that 15 young people stayed was not a “serious reason to take away the chance to travel from hundreds of kids”.
“It’s absurd to suppose that the program could facilitate the seduction of young Russians,” Meshkov said. “As a participant in this program myself, I know what a serious selection process host families go through.”
OIG conducted an investigation of a subcontractor to a Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs grantee that received $835,670 to conduct a project entitled “Youth Exchange and Study Program” (YES) for the 2008-2009 academic school year. An employee of the subcontractor was assigned to serve as the local coordinator for the students enrolled in the program and was responsible for finding host homes for the students in Scranton, PA. The employee accepted money from the grant and failed to provide the students with basic provisions as outlined in the grant. On February 12, 2010, the subcontractor employee pleaded guilty to one felony count of Mail Fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 12, 2010. Possible civil action against the subcontract company for knowing violating the terms of the grant is currently pending. (09-107)
OIG conducted an investigation of a subcontractor to a Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs grantee that received $835,670 to conduct a project entitled “Youth Exchange and Study Program” for the 2008-2009 academic school year. An employee of the subcontractor was assigned to serve as the local coordinator for the students enrolled in the program and was responsible for finding host homes for the students in Scranton, PA. The employee accepted money from the grant and failed to provide the students with basic provisions as outlined in the grant. On February 12, 2010, the subcontractor employee pleaded guilty to one felony count of Mail Fraud and on May 27, 2010, she was sentenced in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania, to 3 years supervised probation and 100 hours of community service, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,900. (See OIG Semiannual Report to the Congress, October 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010, pp 68) (09-107)
LITTLE ROCK – An attorney for a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that places foreign students in Arkansas high schools told lawmakers Tuesday he had no problem with the state having some oversight of firms like his, including a registration program.
At the request of Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, legislative committees met to consider whether the state should oversee placement of foreign exchange students after Madison fielded complaints last year that some of the students were being placed with families ill-equipped to take care of them.
“I have no problem with a registering,” said Jeffrey Allen, attorney and board member of Education First Foundation of Foreign Study, told a joint meeting of the Senate Children and Youth Committee and the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs.
Companies that place foreign exchange students with U.S. families are regulated by the U.S. State Department. California requires all companies active there to register with the California attorney general’s office, while Minnesota and Washington require the companies to register, but with some other state agency. Arkansas has no registration requirement.
When the Legislative Council approved Madison’s study proposal in December, the State Department was investigating complaints about placement of foreign students in Arkansas by Allen’s firm.
Earlier this month, after repeated problems with Education First, Fayetteville High School decided to no longer accept students provided by the company. The following day, the company fired the Fayetteville family hired to host the students during the school year.
The federal investigation into Education First and its Fayetteville coordinators centered on allegations that exchange students stayed at the homes of their coordinators, which is prohibited by federal regulations.
Allen acknowledged Tuedsay that four of the 87 foreign students his company brought to Arkansas last year were placed in difficult host family environments.
“We bring 2,700 kids, teenagers, into the United States every year, there are going to be issues,” Allen said. “Our job is to minimize them and to respond to them when they occur and to respond to them appropriately.”
Rep. Tracy Pennartz, D-Fort Smith, who suggested the screening process the company used to hire regional coordinators was flawed, said the state would be watching.
“So if you all have made errors or mistakes, what we’re interested in is that you revise your procedures and processes so that those same errors don’t occur again,” she said.
After the meeting, Madison said she plans to develop legislation for the 2009 regular session that would give the state some oversight of the placement companies, including a registration requirement.
During the two-hour meeting, Leigh Hudson, a counselor at Fayetteville High School, told lawmakers she got to know each of the four troubled foreign students last school year and each was upset and emotional over the problems they faced with their host families.
In one case, a student, who was Lutheran, was forced to go to the host family’s non-denominational church and was told she would lose her cell phone and computer privileges if she did not, Hudson said. Another student was upset because her host family’s home smelled of sewage because of plumbing problems, she said.
Also, several students lived with Gerald and Sherry Drummond, regional coordinators for Education First, against federal regulations. The company fired the Drummonds this month after Fayetteville High quit accepting foreign students through the company.
Matt Smith, Education First’s director of operations, told lawmakers Tuesday that after the problems with the four students the remaining 83 in the state were questioned and were determined to be happy and comfortable with their host families.
Smith estimated as many as 20 percent of foreign exchange students have to be moved to another host family during a school year because they are incompatible.
The Drummonds were invited to testify at Tuesday’s meeting but did not attend.
2014: Gerald and Sherry Drummond currently work for (CASE) Culture Academic Student Exchange South Central Region
By Rob Moritz, Arkansas News Bureau,
LITTLE ROCK – The Legislative Council on Friday endorsed a proposal to study placement of foreign exchange students with host families in Arkansas.
Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, said she proposed the study after receiving complaints that some foreign exchange students were being placed in homes with families ill-equipped to take care of them.
Madison also noted recent reports that the U.S. State Department was investigating complaints about where a Massachusetts company had placed some foreign exchange students arriving in Arkansas.
That investigation, involving the Education First Foundation for Foreign Study and its Fayetteville coordinators, involves allegations that exchange students stayed at the homes of the coordinators.
Federal regulations prohibit employees of a foreign exchange company from serving as both a host family and area supervisor for a student.
Madison’s proposal asks the Senate Interim Committee on Children and Youth to study the issue and report its findings to Legislative Council.
“Some parents came to me about problems they’ve seen in Northwest Arkansas,” Madison said Friday, also noting problems she heard of in Clarksville and Hot Springs.
In Clarksville, Madison said, a student from Korea was placed with a family living in low-income housing. The student would write home asking her parents for money to help feed her host family, she said.
“At that point, she asked to be moved to another family and representatives from the company set up a table outside a Wal-Mart to recruit her another family,” Madison said. “They found her another family and this time the male of the household was arrested on a drug charge.”
The State Department, which currently has oversight authority, does not have adequate staff to oversee the foreign exchange program, Madison said. California has enacted a law that gives its attorney general’s office some oversight authority, she said.
The California law requires any person or group that arranges the placement of foreign exchange students in California elementary, junior high or high schools to register with the attorney general’s office before making the placement.
Copyright © Arkansas News Bureau, 2003 – 2006
EF Education First Arkansas
2007 Dec 9: Exchange group gets probe after teens complain
2008 Jun 03: Agency dumps coordinators of foreign teens
“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
“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 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”, http://www.epi.org/publication/j_visas_minimal_oversight_despite_signifi….
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.” http://archive.gao.gov/t2pbat12/140621.pdf.
7 Roselyn Tantraphol and Andre J. Bowser, “Polish Workers Criticize Six Flags”, Hartford Courant, September 4, 2002.
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.
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.
BY ROBERT J. SMITH
Posted on Sunday, December 9, 2007
The U. S. State Department is investigating complaints about where a Massachusetts company places foreign-exchange students arriving in Northwest Arkansas.
The eight cases involve Education First Foundation for Foreign Study and its Fayetteville coordinators, Gerald D. and Sherry A. Drummond, said Stanley Colvin, director of the State Department’s office of exchange coordination and designation. Six of the eight cases involve students attending Fayetteville High School, Fayetteville Christian School or Mission Boulevard Baptist School. The others attended schools in Northwest Arkansas but now live in Camden or Kentucky, Colvin said.
The complaints center on the nonprofit firm’s failure to find appropriate homes for some students before they arrive, as well as on how and where the Drummonds place the students.
“This is sloppy work,” Colvin said of the foundation’s operation in Arkansas.
The State Department is investigating whether Cambridge, Mass.-based Education First, better known as EF Foundation, violated a federal regulation by allowing some students to live in the Drummond home without assigning another EF employee as a supervisor, Colvin said.
Federal regulations require foreign-exchange companies to “ensure that no organizational representative act as both host family and area supervisor for any exchange student participant.” “If there was an emergency and she had to remove a child from a home and keep the student for a one-night kind of thing, that’s not a violation,” Colvin said.
It wasn’t clear last week whether EF Foundation had assigned a separate supervisor.
Sherry Drummond, 53, refused to answer questions about the allegations of students and host families.
“It hurts me too much, because I’ve put so much into this,” she said.
She deferred to EF Foundation spokesman Ellen Manz, who requested that questions be sent by e-mail. She didn’t respond to those queries.
MADISON’S QUESTIONS The State Department investigation — expected to be complete in a few days — began after state Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, received complaints from host families and foreign-exchange students about EF Foundation and the Drummonds. The students and their current host families in Northwest Arkansas told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week how foreign-exchange students lived in what they considered unclean, unsafe homes and how they felt disliked by Sherry Drummond when they stayed with her. They also complained that the Drummonds improperly served the dual role of host family and organization representative for several students, making it awkward for the students to voice their concerns.
Rikke Stoyva, a Fayetteville High School student from Norway, didn’t care for emphasis on religion by her host family, John and Jill Foster. The family attended nondenominational church services three times a week in West Fork.
Stoyva, who is Lutheran, lived with the Fosters for three months, then was moved to Camden, where she’s attending Camden Fairview High School. She is living with EF representative Leigh Horton, Horton said Friday.
Colvin said he’s also looking into complaints that foreign-exchange students sat at tables at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market and in front of a Wal-Mart trying to convince shoppers to allow other students into their homes. “It’s not appropriate, but it’s not a violation of the law,” Colvin said. “It may be an indication of underlying regulatory violations. Why were they down there doing that ?” It’s been a difficult year for foreign students at Fayetteville High. In September, student Marije Stam of the Netherlands repeatedly came to school upset and crying, she said, until counselors helped her move from the Drummond home.
“I did not feel like a guest, or at least a family member,” said Stam, 17, who lived in the Drummond house for a month and is now staying with Russ and Mara Cole of Fayetteville.
“I do not know how to express my feelings at that moment, but in my country, I would say [Sherry Drummond ] made me feel like a dog,” she said.
Mara Cole, along with Madison, spent much of last week spurring the State Department to investigate EF Foundation, the Drummonds and how the company operates in Arkansas. They sent statements from students and host families to Beth Melofchik, a State Department educational- and cultural-exchange specialist, describing what they say EF and the Drummonds did and failed to do. “I think we have an extra-special obligation to bring these foreign-exchange students to our country and to take good care of them, and I don’t think that’s happening here,” Madison said.
SCHOOL CONCERNED Fayetteville High teachers and counselors said they’ve had frequent issues with the Drummonds and EF Foundation placements. They’ve complained to officials in the foundation’s headquarters about the Drummonds and believe the organization did nothing in response. “I only hear about the bad [situations ], and there are several each year that are miserable for the student, and the placement in the homes get changed and the students have to be moved,” said Anne Butt, the high school’s college adviser for nine years.
Butt said she took a German student into her home four years ago because EF Foundation put her into a Springdale home she disliked.
Lesli Zeagler, a Fayetteville High counselor, said there are few problems with the international students attending the school who are brought to the United States by Rotary International. Not true with EF Foundation, she said. “With EF, I’ve experienced students who are scared, who seem to be malnourished, and they seem to be isolated,” Zeagler said. “The problems go back years, but we’ve never had a group of students who have been so vocal about it.” Doug Wright, a Fayetteville High counselor, was the counselor at Elkins High School last year. Among the nine foreign-exchange students at that school, five came to the States with the help of EF Foundation.
One EF placement was an Asian girl put in a home where the host parents were going through a divorce. The woman moved out and the man was left behind with the student, Wright said. The school reported it to EF Foundation and the girl was moved to the wife’s home, said Becky Martin, Elkins High School principal.
That instance, however, isn’t part of the State Department investigation.
“There were some questionable placements in Elkins,” Wright said. “I can’t think of a non-EF kid who had a problem.” Boglarka “Boszi” Palko, a national history champion in Hungary who’s attending Fayetteville High, found herself in an awkward situation when she arrived at the Springdale home of Bobby and Sue Hawkins on Aug. 4.
Palko, 18, said she was never happy in the small house, where she was asked to live with the Hawkinses and their 17-year-old daughter. Cousins and grandchildren also regularly spent the night.
Family members smoked inside the house. Palko said she had instructions to put toilet paper in the trash can rather than flush it. That plus cigarette smoke made the house smell bad, Palko said.
Palko said Hawkins family members described her as “overeducated” and as a “present” for their daughter. Bobby Hawkins, a close friend of the Drummonds, told Palko she’d need to understand “redneck English” to survive in the home, Palko said. Palko said she also was accused of having a sexual relationship while she lived in the home. She denies the accusation. Sue Hawkins invited a Democrat-Gazette reporter to see her Oak Street home last week then wouldn’t allow him inside. The tan-colored house was well-kept on the outside.
Palko lived eight days in the Hawkins home, then was moved to the 41-year-old, 2, 100-squarefoot Drummond home near Lake Sequoyah. In order to move, she had to sign an EF Foundation “behavioral agreement” that described the Hawkins home as “suitable” and that the problems she’d encountered were her fault.
“Sherry hated me,” Palko said. “When you speak with someone, you can feel it.” She was moved five days later to the Fayetteville home of Dave and Brenda Servies. Sherry and Gerald Drummond visited the home to check it out, and family members passed a criminal-background check, which is required by the State Department. Palko said she’s been content in the Servies home. She’s visited local stores, loves Northwest Arkansas Mall and made her first trip last week to a Hobby Lobby crafts store. She’ll travel with the Servies as part of a Christmas trip to Florida. “I’m talking about what happened with the other people to protect the next kids from this,” Palko said. “It won’t be good for us to talk, but I can protect the next ones by letting people know.” DUAL ROLE Among the most troubling issues in Arkansas are the stories of Gerald and Sherry Drummond serving as host family and EF Foundation representatives, said Danielle Grijalva, director of the Committee for the Safety of Foreign Exchange Students. The 2-year-old watchdog organization monitors foreign-exchange organizations.
Having a different EF Foundation representative serve as a supervisor doesn’t protect foreign-exchange students, she said.
“What neutrality does that provide the student when she has a concern about her host father or host mother ?” Grijalva said. “Is that not a recipe for disaster ? It’s a disgrace.” Grijalva also expressed concerns about Stoyva, the Norwegian student placed in the Fosters’ home who’s now in Camden. The EF Foundation handbook says “we are not trying to change the student’s beliefs or convert anyone to a new faith.” Efforts to reach Stoyva in Camden were unsuccessful. Horton, the EF representative in whose home Stoyva now lives, refused to let her come to the phone Friday, saying she’s a minor. School officials and state Sen. Gene Jeffress, D-Louann, refused to ask Stoyva to return messages.
“She’s doing wonderful now,” said Jeffress, a retired Fairview teacher who went to check on Stoyva last week. “She’s in a better situation now. She conveyed that to me.” John Foster said his family didn’t try to change Stoyva’s beliefs and that the family knew of her Lutheran upbringing. He’d communicated with her by email before she came to the States about the family’s frequent visits to Unity Covenant Church in West Fork. The family attends church Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. Stoyva knew what to expect, Foster said. “I think the whole thing has been blown out of proportion,” said Foster, 28, a Fayetteville police officer assigned to work at Fayetteville High. “We felt like we gave Rikke a good home. “ Church was the only place we saw her smile at all. If loving your child and trying your hardest is something bad, then we did something wrong. We tried as hard as we could to make it work.”
EF FOUNDATION Madison said she was told by an EF Foundation employee that the Drummonds are paid $ 300 to $ 400 for each foreignexchange student placed in a family’s home, including their own. The Drummonds received $ 12 per student, per month, for verifying the students are doing well and helping with difficulties they encounter, Madison said. Grijalva said most foreign-exchange student companies pay $ 400 to $ 750 for each student who is placed in a home. Host families aren’t paid.
The payment is a small portion of the $ 5, 000 for six months or $ 10, 000 for a year that the students pay EF Foundation to come to the United States.
Around 30, 000 exchange students come to America annually, said Colvin of the State Department’s exchange coordination office, adding the State Department investigates about 200 complaints each year. About 20 percent involve students brought to the United States by EF Foundation, Colvin said.
As part of its investigation in Arkansas, Colvin said the State Department could reprimand the company and require it to write a corrective-action plan to ensure it doesn’t violate federal regulations. A more severe penalty could involve shutting down the corporation or limiting how many students it can bring to the United States. Colvin sent a letter Thursday to the EF Foundation describing five media accounts and complaints last week regarding the organization. “This is not a pretty picture,” he concluded in the letter.
John Hishmeh, director of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel, is familiar with the complaints coming from Northwest Arkansas. The nonprofit council monitors and distributes information about exchange programs. “Things go wrong, and you have to figure out if it’s a catastrophic failure or a single thing that went wrong,” Hishmeh said. Connie Williams, a counselor at Springdale High School for 35 years, said it’s wrong to “pinpoint” EF Foundation as problematic because she’s had difficulty with other companies, too. Eight foreign-exchange students are attending the school this year, she said.
“I’ve never particularly had trouble with EF, but I’ve had trouble with another agency,” Williams said.
Brad and Sarah Campbell, who are hosting a German student in their Fayetteville home, fear problems with foreign-exchange companies in Northwest Arkansas could have long-term consequences.
“These are high-achieving kids who were selected to come here,” Brad Campbell said. “They are diplomats. They want to know what it’s like in America, and they invest a year of their life to be here. We owe them a good experience. Their opinions of the U. S. are being formed.
“We’re not saying you have to be millionaires to have these kids, but you do have to have a solid foundation. A lot of the households aren’t solid. They are disruptive and filled with turmoil.” FOUNDATION FACTS
Education First Foundation for Foreign Study, founded in 1979, is the country’s largest foreign-exchange company. More than 100 companies bring students to the United States, said John Hishmeh, director of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel. The council has certified about 70, including EF Foundation. About 30, 000 foreign-exchange students travel to the United States each year and few report problems, Hishmeh said. EF Foundation brought 3, 712 students from more than 40 countries in the year ending Sept. 30, 2006, according to the foundation’s most recent federal tax filings.
The foundation’s income tax exemption submitted to the Internal Revenue Service last February reported its 2006 revenue was $ 10, 047, 865.
While the U.S. Department of State actually had the power to investigate the student exchange companies, little seems to happen with the continued violations of several sponsoring organizations. In an interview with the Arkansas Democratic Gazette in December 2007, Stanley Colvin commented on complaints about EF Education and its Fayetteville coordinators, Gerald D. and Sherry A. Drummond. The U.S. State Department began an investigation after Arkansas State Senator Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, received complaints from host families and foreign-exchange students about EF Foundation and the Drummonds. The students and their current host families in Northwest Arkansas told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette how foreign-exchange students lived in what they considered unclean, unsafe homes and how they felt disliked by Sherry Drummond when they stayed with her. They also complained that the Drummonds improperly served the dual role of host family and organization representative for several students, making it awkward for the students to voice their concerns. Rikke Stoyva, a Fayetteville High School student from Norway, didn’t care for emphasis on religion by her host family, John and Jill Foster. The family attended nondenominational church services three times a week in West Fork. Stoyva, who is Lutheran, lived with the Fosters for three months, then was moved to Camden, where she’s attending Camden Fairview High School.