The Department of State announced on September 23, 2011, that it plans to conduct on-site reviews of Summer Work Travel Program sponsors to evaluate regulatory compliance. The program provides foreign college and university students the opportunity to work and travel in the U.S. during their extended academic break (summer vacation) for up to four months.
The Department explained that on April 26, 2011, it published an interim final rule governing the Summer Work Travel category under the Exchange Visitor Program. In that rulemaking, the Department set forth its three-step approach to addressing a number of concerns regarding sponsor administration of this program:
- The Department adopted a pilot program in January 2011 to enhance protections for foreign nationals from Belarus, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Russia, and the Ukraine.
- The Department issued the interim final rule, which incorporated many of the concepts of the pilot program into the overall Summer Work Travel Program regulations.
- The Department intends to conduct on-site reviews to monitor sponsor performance, to assess category-wide regulatory compliance, and to consult with sponsors about implementation of the interim final rule.
Close monitoring of Summer Work Travel sponsors during the summer of 2011 resulted in the Department’s modifying its plans for the on-site reviews. Specifically, the Department evaluated all Summer Work Travel sponsors’ compliance with program regulations regarding the maintenance of current and accurate records in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) from September 1, 2009, through August 30, 2010. It also reviewed Summer Work Travel-related complaints for the 2011 summer season and monitored the media for additional reports of program problems. As a result of these efforts, the Department determined that it will not visit sponsors based solely on their size, but instead “will conduct compliance reviews of those designated sponsors whose compliance with the relevant Exchange Visitor Program regulations deserve closer examination by the Department.”
Currently there are 51 designated sponsors in the Summer Work Travel category. Of those, the Department has identified 14 sponsors that will be reviewed. Although the Department may later decide to evaluate additional sponsors, it intends to visit these 14 sponsors (which the Department did not name but said that they together sponsor about 65 percent of all Summer Work Travel participants) between October and December 2011. On average, the Department expects that each on-site review will take two full business days and will be preceded by written notice 10 days in advance and a request for certain specified documents.
The Department said the on-site reviews will focus on evaluating the overall program administration and the effectiveness of the modifications to sponsors’ program administration resulting from implementation of the interim final rule and the pilot program. A primary goal of these reviews is to assess whether the sponsors have been able “to comply and remain in continual compliance with all provisions of Part 62” (22 CFR 62.3(b)(1)). To this end, the reviews will focus on sponsor compliance with the pilot program guidelines and participant monitoring requirements, maintenance of accurate SEVIS records, and sponsors’ relationships with third parties they have engaged to assist in carrying out the core programmatic functions inherent in the administration of exchange visitor programs (i.e., screening, selection, orientation, placement, monitoring, and the promotion of mutual understanding). Other areas of interest may include sponsors’ roles in assisting participants in finding suitable housing; decision-making processes (including the numbers of participants accepted); self-imposed compliance mechanisms; procedures for handling student participant problems (including finding new jobs for those whose pre-arranged placements were unsatisfactory); and policies for refunding deposits or payments to student participants.
Finally, the Department said it intends to use these reviews as an opportunity for sponsors to provide feedback on the pilot program and the interim final rule in general, and more specifically, sponsors’ experience with the relevant new regulatory provisions during the summer season of 2011. Feedback will be used to assist in issuing the final rule. Best practices will be collected from the on-site reviews and shared with the wider sponsor community.
Sponsors who are not included in these reviews and wish to comment should e-mail their comments and concerns to the Department at JVisas@State.gov.