Search

 

Cablegate: Growing Summer Work and Travel Exchange Program Reshapes

VZCZCXRO6155
RR RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHCHI #0078/01 1150919
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 250919Z APR 07
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0456
INFO RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 0026
RUEHDN/AMCONSUL SYDNEY 0001
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0015
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0042
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 0052
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0501
RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 0024
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 0018
RUEHKV/AMEMBASSY KYIV 0001
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 0002
RUEHPNH/NVC PORTSMOUTH 0001
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 0024

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 CHIANG MAI 000078

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT ALSO PASS TO EAP/PD JESSICA DAVIES AND EAC/EC/CU
HILARION MARTINEZ
DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS MELANIE HIGGINS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CVIS CMGT OEXC SCUL TH
SUBJECT: GROWING SUMMER WORK AND TRAVEL EXCHANGE PROGRAM RESHAPES
WORKLOAD AT SMALL POST

REF: BANGKOK 2246

CHIANG MAI 00000078 001.2 OF 003


1. Summary. The explosive growth in the Student Work and Travel
(SWT) program in Thailand has reshaped the way Consulate General
Chiang Mai manages its visa workload and consular outreach
strategies. SWT visa applications have quadrupled over the past
three years to the point where they now account for more than 55
percent of all visas processed during the months leading up
Thailand's summer break. Despite glowing reviews from
participants, some warning signs of trouble ahead warrant
attention from consular and public diplomacy officers. End
Summary.

SWT'S POPULARITY LEADS TO SIGNIFICANT VISA GROWTH

2. As detailed in Embassy Bangkok's report (reftel), the
March-June summer break for Thai college students has led SWT
companies to recruit increasing numbers of Thai students to work
in U.S. amusement parks, restaurants, and other tourist locales.
Coordinating with U.S.-based sponsoring organizations, local
companies recruit students for the program, collect
participation fees (usually about $1,000), coordinate their J
visa applications and travel, and turn them over to U.S. SWT
companies that facilitate employment and housing arrangements.

3. The program's growing popularity among Thai students - and
the popularity of Thai students among U.S. employers - has
fuelled a dramatic increase in J visa applications at post. In
January-March 2004, post processed just 103 J-1 applications and
SWT applicants accounted for 10 percent of the consulate's NIV
workload during that time period. In the past three years,
however, SWT has come to dominate the consular section's first
quarter caseload. During the 2005 SWT season, post received 297
applications (24 percent of the overall January-March caseload),
581 in the 2006 season (47 percent), and 1,187 in 2007 (55
percent). Based on conversations with local recruiters, 2008
could see almost 2,000 SWT applications in northern Thailand
alone. To put the caseload growth in perspective, post processed
just 2,052 visas from every category in all of 2003.

4. Post has adapted its consular outreach and management
strategies to handle the wave of SWT applications. With high
confidence in the ability of SWT applicants to overcome 214b
requirements (reftel details Embassy Bangkok validation studies
showing near-perfect return rates), one officer can handle more
than 100 cases per morning. Ensuring that applicants arrive for
the interviews prepared is key to an efficient process. Post
invests considerable staff hours in the weeks leading up to SWT
high season, coordinating with recruiting companies to make sure
documents, DS-2019s, and appointments are in order before
students arrive for their interviews. This investment paid off
in 2007, as post was able to accept all SWT applications without
delaying overall NIV interview wait times (historically less
than one week throughout the year).

5. Working off of Embassy Bangkok's lead, post identifies SWT
coordinators and meets with them to discuss the application
process. Local SWT agencies are proliferating almost as quickly
as the number of applicants and post's outreach efforts missed a
handful of smaller operations that opened this year. With
continued growth in the program likely, post is coordinating
with universities, academic advising offices, and other SWT
companies to pass the word to new agencies about planning SWT
applications in concert with the consular section.

PROGRAM'S SUCCESSES MAKE GOOD PUBLIC DIPLOMACY

6. Current and former SWT applicants give overwhelmingly
positive reviews of their SWT experiences. Most students point
to opportunities for travel, meeting new friends, and improving
English skills as the program's chief attractions. Indeed, SWT
veterans are among the best English speakers who consular
officers interview during SWT high season, displaying a comfort
with the language and grasp of slang nearly unseen among the
region's other college students.

7. Most SWT students work until mid-to-late June and then spend

CHIANG MAI 00000078 002.2 OF 003


about two weeks traveling the United States. Popular travel
destinations include Florida (where many are assigned to work),
New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Students speak
highly of American culture, singling out independence,
creativity, and self-confidence as traits they admire most.

8. The positive SWT experiences also are beginning to benefit
other aspects of visa work, as more people interact with the
consulate and gain an understanding of U.S. immigration
policies. Officers note that many F (student) visa applicants
over the past two years have come from SWT veterans.

SOME CONCERN OVER UNCHECKED GROWTH, LACK OF OVERSIGHT

9. Despite the highly positive reviews from most students, the
rapid growth in the program has led to some negative reports.
These include stories in which participants are stranded at the
airport, housed in cramped or overpriced apartments, or not
provided jobs. For the most part, coverage of these problems has
not cited the consulate, embassy or USG as responsible parties.
However, worried parents often call the consular section and ask
staff for help resolving such issues with their children, many
of whom are working for someone outside of their family for the
first time.

10. Students from post's consular district report taking on
second or third jobs after arriving in the United States (one
sample of 10 SWT participants from 2006 showed nine had signed
up for extra work). These students said they took the extra jobs
to make more money, compensate for lower-than-expected hours at
their primary job, or escape harsh conditions at their original
employers. Extra jobs mean many of these students work more than
12-hour days and yet, as temporary employees, did not receive
paid personal and sick time. In addition, students say some SWT
participants fall victim to U.S.-based recruiters who sign up
students for second jobs, only to place them in less desirable
work or fail to mail students their final paycheck after they
have returned to Thailand. Some students and local academic
advising center representatives familiar with SWT suspect
organized crime networks are involved in the scams, and note
that many of the suspicious recruiters had Russian- or
Ukrainian-sounding names.

11. The doubling of SWT applications from 2006 to 2007 and
subsequent slight decrease in quality of the average applicant
may signal that there is a finite supply of qualified students
in northern Thailand who want to participate in the program
primarily for cultural exchange. Consular officers observed a
decline in overall quality among applicants this year as the
season wore on, especially among non-traditional students and
those studying at colleges in the outer provinces. Many
less-qualified students arrived for the interviews heavily
coached and unable to answer simple questions in English. Others
brought transcripts showing weak academic records. However,
backed by a strong confidence that the students would return to
Thailand and that past participants had improved their English
skills, post's officers approved almost all SWT applications. If
post sees a further decline in applicant quality it will merit
more scrutiny over what constitutes a "qualified applicant."
Post recommends that CA and ECA provide further instructions on
adjudication standards for SWT applicants for consular officers
to apply during interviews, particularly regarding academic
qualifications and language ability.

LESSONS LEARNED: MANAGING WORKLOADS AND PUBLIC DIPLOMACY EFFORTS

12. The quadrupling of SWT visas over the past three years - and
the expectation even more growth ahead - has driven consular
outreach to the forefront of post's agenda. With such heavy
growth in visas, post's small consular staff of two officers and
four FSNs must prepare for SWT high season and seek effective
means to handle the increase in applications, data entry, and
filing. Working closely with Embassy Bangkok, post will continue
to actively reach out to SWT recruiters and integrate SWT/J visa
policy issues into general visa information outreach efforts.


CHIANG MAI 00000078 003.2 OF 003


13. COMMENT: SWT has for the most part been a boon for the U.S.
image among Thai students. However, unchecked growth in the
program could risk that these positives turn into negatives.
With some SWT companies more interested in profits than cultural
exchange programs for foreign students, local recruitment
standards are falling and SWT participants find themselves
vulnerable to exploitation and scams. U.S. sponsors must closely
monitor their local recruiting partners to ensure all students
are well-screened, qualified, and prepared for their experience
working in the United States. If the program simply becomes a
source of cheap labor for U.S. employers seeking to bypass
existing rules on importing unskilled labor, the integrity of
the program will suffer.
CAMP

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 

Cyclone Gita: 70% Of Tonga Population Affected

The full scale of destruction is beginning to emerge from Tonga in the aftermath of the severe tropical cyclone Gita. Around 50,000 people, or almost 70% of the country’s population, have been affected, a third of whom are children. More>>

ALSO:

Gita: Samoas Clean Up After Being Swamped By Cyclone

Apia in the wake of Gita Photo: Rudy Bartley The clean up is continuing in the two Samoas after Tropical Cyclone Gita hit on Saturday morning. More>>

ALSO:


Grand Coalition : Germany's two main political parties set to govern under Angela Merkel.

The liberal-conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) negotiated through the night in a marathon final push to nail down an agreement. More>>


80 Passengers: Kiribati Ferry Disaster

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are working with the Government of Kiribati to support children, families and communities affected by the recent Butiraoi ferry disaster. More>>

ALSO:

Campbell On: the US demonising of Iran

Satan may not exist, but the Evil One has always been a handy tool for priests and politicians alike. Currently, Iran is the latest bogey conjured up by Washington to (a) justify its foreign policy interventions and (b) distract attention from its foreign policy failures. More

ALSO: