US announces changes to troubled visa programme

The US State Department announced major changes to its premier student-exchange programme following an investigation that found widespread abuses.

The agency issued new rules for the J-1 Summer Work and Travel Programme, which brings more than 100,000 foreign college students to the United States each year.

It was meant to foster cultural understanding, but it has become a multimillion-dollar international business.

The changes are the latest in a series of steps the State Department has taken to fix the programme since an AP investigation in 2010 revealed widespread abuses.

The investigation found some participants working in strip clubs, and not always willingly, while others were put in living and working conditions they compared to indentured servitude.

In one of the worst cases of abuse, a woman told the AP she was beaten, raped and forced to work as a stripper in Detroit after being promised a job as a waitress in Virginia.

More common than sex trade problems were shabby housing, hefty work hours and paltry pay. In August of 2011, dozens of workers protested conditions at a candy factory that packs Hershey chocolates in Pennsylvania, complaining of hard physical labor and pay deductions for rent that often left them with little money.

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