Cablegate: Brazilian Exchange Students Flocking to the United States

DE RUEHSO #0787/01 2671821
R 241821Z SEP 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

SAO PAULO 00000787 001.2 OF 003

1. (U) SUMMARY: AmConsul Sao Paulo had a 23 percent increase in J
visa applicants during the first semester of 2007 compared to the
same period in 2006. This is the continuation of a trend that has
resulted in a 185 percent increase in demand for J visas over the
past five years. The increased popularity of au pair and summer
work travel programs is driving this demand, combined with ever
increasing interest among Brazilian youth to study or conduct
exchanges overseas. END SUMMARY.

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Au Pair and Summer Work Travel Programs Driving Growth
----------------------- ------------------------------

2. (U) AmConsul Sao Paulo had a 23 percent increase in J visa
applicants during the first semester of 2007 compared to the same
period in 2006, and a 35 percent increase compared with 2005. This
growth is attributed primarily to the increasing popularity of the
J1 work programs, notably au pair and summer work travel. Brazil's
largest exchange organization, Student Travel Bureau (STB), reported
a 130 percent increase thus far in 2007 in au pair clients and a 65
percent increase in summer work travel clients compared to the same
period in 2006. AmConsul Sao Paulo expects to interview
approximately 11,000 summer work travel candidates in October and
November, a 57 percent increase over the 7,000 that applied in

3. (U) While the popularity of J1 work programs is on the rise, the
J1 high school program is increasingly losing students to other
countries. According to Tereza Fulfaro, Educational Director of
another large agency, Central de Intercambio (CI), this can be
attributed not to decreased interest, but rather to difficulties in
securing host families and schools. In 2005, 66 percent of CI's
high school clients went to the U.S. That percentage dropped to 55
percent in 2006 and 44 percent in 2007. The same trend is noted by
STB, which has had to redirect students to Canada, New Zealand,
Australia, and Switzerland.

4. (U) The overall increase in J1 numbers corresponds to expanding
demand within the Brazilian student population for exchange and
study opportunities overseas. Exchange organizations Experimento
and CI, for example, have grown 40 percent in each of the past five
years in worldwide exchange and study programs. STB is growing
around 30 percent a year, with U.S. programs growing above this
average. Word-of-mouth is the biggest factor driving this growth,
buttressed by a well-developed exchange industry and a strong
Brazilian currency.

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J Programs Growing Since 9/11 Despite Competition
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. (U) The overall popularity of the United States among Brazilian
students is rebounding after leveling off post-9/11. While interest
in J1 exchange programs was not affected to the same degree as F1
language and academic programs, real and perceived obstacles in the
visa process - combined with security concerns and the devaluation
of the Brazilian currency - drew many Brazilians away from the U.S.
and towards Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

6. (U) According to Patricia Zocchio, CEO of Experimento, the U.S.
has historically been the top destination for Brazilians
participating in study and exchange programs. Until 2000, 40
percent of her clients studying abroad (F1 visa holders) chose the
U.S. After 2001, Canada and Australia surpassed the U.S. as the top
destinations for students looking for academic and language study,
diminishing the U.S. market share for such programs to 20 percent.

7. (U) J1 work programs have gone in the opposite direction. After
J visa applications decreased by 5.4 percent in 2001 compared to the
previous year, demand has increased every year: by 1.1 percent in
2002, 10.7 percent in 2003, 68.1 percent in 2004, 39.3 percent in
2005, and 8.8 percent in 2006. This is a 185 percent increase over
the past five years. Brazilian exchange organizations have been
selling the summer work travel program since 1998. Combined with
the rising popularity of the au pair and trainee/intern programs,
the U.S. has dominated this market over the past decade. While
similar work programs have opened up in England, Ireland, Australia
and New Zealand, Experimento maintains that "the programs offered in
the U.S. are second to none" as they combine "reasonable costs,
attractive salaries, and the renowned American work ethic."

SAO PAULO 00000787 002.2 OF 003

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Residual Perception of Difficulty in Obtaining Student Visa
---------------------------- ------------------------------

8. (U) Conoff asked four of the country's largest exchange agencies
about how visa requirements weighed on a client's decision to choose
the U.S. over another destination. While all four organizations
noted recent improvements in the visa application process - shorter
wait times and a general increase in clarity - all confirmed that
U.S. visa requirements do push potential students and exchange
visitors towards other countries. Among the obstacles, real and
perceived, include the need to appear in person for an interview,
fear of being denied, difficulties in proving ties to Brazil, and
the wait time.

9. (U) The visa issue certainly looms large when comparing U.S.
visa demands to those of other potential destination countries. New
Zealand, Ireland and the U.K. do not require visas for Brazilians on
short-term programs. The process for Australia and Canada is less
complex and usually does not require the applicant to appear in
person, a huge consideration in a country that is larger than the 48
contiguous U.S. states. According to Felipe Jendiroba, Managing
Director of Intercultural, the fact that foreign students can also
work part-time in Australia, Canada, Ireland and England is a big
draw. According to a recent study conducted by the Brazilian
Education & Language Travel Association (BELTA), the cost of the
program is the most important factor in deciding location, followed
by visa requirements, availability of work permits, and the cost of

10. (U) COMMENT: In 2006, AmConsul Sao Paulo denied 10.3 percent of
J1 visas, compared to the overall visa denial rate of 13 percent.
The denial rate of F1 visas is 27 percent. The Canadian Consulate
in Sao Paulo has similar statistics. While their overall visa
denial rate is around 12 percent, they estimate that about 20
percent of students are denied. Sao Paulo has prioritized student
appointments, and the current wait for F1 and J1 applicants is less
than a week, compared with over two months for tourist visas. END


11. (U) The Brazilian exchange market is exceptionally
well-developed. AmConsul Sao Paulo is in regular contact with over
fifty organizations that assist students with J1 programs, although
a handful of for-profit organizations dominate the market. STB, for
instance, has 51 branch offices across the country and sends 5500
clients annually to the U.S. on F1 and J1 programs. These agencies
serve as "one-stop shops" for students wishing to travel to the
U.S., selecting the program that best fits the student's goals.

12. (U) AmConsul Sao Paulo has held over 30 meetings with exchange
agencies over the past year, in addition to a summer work travel
planning meeting that brought together almost fifty exchange
organizations. In preparation for the Summer Work Travel season
that begins in October, ConOffs have attended six job fairs and
pre-orientation meetings for student candidates, in addition to
meetings with agency heads. Through this outreach, ConOffs have
directly reached about 1,400 students, 20 U.S. employers and six
U.S. designated J1 sponsors. In the coming months, ConOffs plan to
expand existing outreach.

Growth in J Programs Expected To Continue

13. (U) Despite the obstacles, indications are that Brazilians will
continue to seek out exchange opportunities in the U.S. over the
coming years. A strong currency, a competitive and globally
integrated labor market, and a well-developed exchange industry all
make J1 exchange programs an easy sell. The perception within the
industry and among potential participants is that the U.S. au pair,
summer work travel and trainee programs are the best when considered
on a cost-benefit basis. For high school exchange students, demand
currently surpasses supply, but the demand itself does not seem to
be diminishing.

14. (U) As the total number of exchange students has increased, so
has the refusal rate. Whereas the refusal rate in 2005 for J1 visas
was 5.6 percent, that number jumped to 10.3 percent in 2006.

SAO PAULO 00000787 003.2 OF 003

Interviewing officers and Fraud Prevention Unit (FPU) are paying
close attention to possible fraud trends within the program and
carefully monitoring applicants and their sponsors. An unfortunate
problem ConOffs have encountered involves unscrupulous agencies
motivated by profit that fail to screen applicants appropriately.
Isolated incidents of agencies using the J program as a vehicle for
immigration are being investigated by FPU.

15. (U) COMMENT: While setting high standards for applicants and
exchange organizations, AmConsul Sao Paulo hopes to encourage the
continuing growth of J exchange programs for Brazilian youth,
particularly among social classes that may not be able to access
more costly F1 study programs, and among young adults who may not
otherwise have the opportunity to visit the United States. ConOffs
are disseminating this message through post's ELO outreach program
targeting several universities that have not had close contact with
the Consulate. AmConsul Sao Paulo will continue these efforts and
look for new opportunities to highlight exchange and study
opportunities in the United States. END COMMENT.

16. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Brasilia.


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