George Graham

A New (to me, anyway) Twist on Labor Exploitation

There’s so much going on in this wicked world that I don’t know about. I read the news. I watch TV. I browse the internet. And yet every now and then something pops up that reveals how much in the dark I am.

Today’s epiphany came via a news item reporting that 400 “students” employed at a Hershey chocolate factory in Pennsylvania had walked off their jobs to protest low wages and lousy working conditions.


Yes, foreign-exchange students.

They’re involved in a State Department cultural exchange visa program, according to the news item.

I know about the student visa racket. It’s been going on for a long time.

Several of the Nine-Eleven terrorists were in the U.S. on student visas. And federal immigration officials have reported human-trafficking abuse cases made possible by the “student” visas. For example, some foreign students complained that they were forced into sexual slavery when their passports were confiscated by a ring of criminals.

But it hadn’t occurred to me that mainstream corporations were in on the racket.

I should’ve known, of course. Today’s corporations don’t miss a chance to make a few extra bucks, and they can save about 8 percent by using foreign “students” because they don’t have to pay Social Security and other taxes.

So, why hire American workers?

In addition to the savings on Social Security and taxes, Hershey got these “students” at $8.35 an hour – and reportedly treated them like sweat-shop wage slaves.

What does that remind you of?

Thailand, perhaps? China? Indonesia?

Why take the trouble to move your factory to some low-wage, poorly regulated country when you can replicate the same kind of exploitative environment by bringing the workers here as “students”?

Especially when you can get the State Department to give the racket an official stamp of approval?

What beats me is why U.S. authorities allow this racket to persist. Don’t tell me they’re unaware of the abuses. I even saw a movie recently that had some young woman trying to teach English to a batch of foreign “students” who had come to America to fill dangerous jobs in a commercial fishing operation.

If Hollywood knows about the student visa racket, why doesn’t Washington?

I have to wonder whether “the government” – regardless of which party is in power – is in cahoots with the corporate power structure in the relentless exportation of American jobs and the importation of foreign workers to sabotage wages and working conditions in the United States.

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About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for