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Cordova Times: Change in regulation pushes food industry to focus on American workforce

J-1 VISA (Photo credit: mor10am)

Posted 08/10/2012
by - Diane Jeantet

Youngsters in their 20s are pushing large and tall silver trolleys in a cloud of condensation, rows of agile hands are working in rhythm as electronic music is blasting out of the speakers. Emptying, cleaning, gashing, filleting, wrapping... Walking through the PVC strips of the Copper River Seafood processing plant, is somehow remindful of entering a giant eastern european discotheque.

A vast majority of the company’s employees are young foreign students, coming to the United States to experience both the American culture and its work environment. Most of them are from Eastern Europe, as the J-1 Visa they are using to come to the country, was initially started during the Cold War era to strengthen U.S. relations with this part of the world.

The J-1 Visa counts a handful of programs allowing students, au-pair, teachers or interns to come to the country for a limited amount of time. One of them, called Summer Work Travel, is often used by the seasonal food and travel industries such as Copper River Seafood and has led them to heavily rely on a young workforce coming from abroad. According to several reports and inquiries, a companies across the country have taken advantage of the program to bring in cheap labor and abuse a fragile workforce.

But following recent changes in the Summer Work Travel program regulation, this....