State Department:

Stronger Action Needed to Improve Oversight and Assess Risks of the Summer Work Travel and Trainee Categories of the Exchange Visitor Program

GAO-06-106: Published: Oct 14, 2005. Publicly Released: Oct 19, 2005.

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Exchange programs, which bring over 280,000 foreign visitors to the United States annually, are widely recognized as an effective way to expose citizens of other countries to the American people and culture. Past GAO and the Department of State (State) Office of Inspector General reviews have reported that some exchange visitors have participated in unauthorized activities and cited problems in the management and oversight of the programs. Strong management oversight is needed to ensure that the programs operate as intended and are not abused. This report examines how State manages the Summer Work Travel and the Trainee programs to ensure that only authorized activities are carried out under the programs and identifies potential risks of the programs and the data available to assess these risks.

State has not exerted sufficient management oversight of the Summer Work Travel and the Trainee programs to guard against abuse of the programs and has been slow to address program deficiencies. State attempts to ensure compliance with program regulations through its processes of approving and annually reviewing the organizations that sponsor exchange visitors. These processes, however, are not sufficient to ensure that visitors participate only in authorized activities because the procedures consist primarily of document reviews, and State rarely visits the sponsors or host employers of the exchange visitors to make sure they are following the rules to investigate complaints. Moreover, some sponsors have asserted that the program regulations need updating. Further, State officials believe that the sanctions provided in the regulations are difficult to enforce. State acknowledged that it has been slow to address identified deficiencies and update the regulations, but had indicated that it is beginning to revise the regulations and is establishing a unit to monitor exchange activities. However funding of the unit has not been secured. A number of potential risks are associated with the programs, including that exchange visitors might use it to remain in the United States beyond their authorized time. There is also the potential for the Trainee Program to be misused as an employment program. Further, negative experiences for exchange participants could undermine the purpose of the programs. However, State has little data to measure whether such risks to the program are significant. As a result, State cannot determine if additional management actions are needed to mitigate the risks.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2005, GAO recommended (State Department: Stronger Action Needed to Improve Oversight and Assess Risks of the Summer Work Travel and Trainee Categories of the Exchange Visitor Program, GAO-06-106, 10/14/05) that State update and amend the regulations governing the Trainee category of the Exchange Visitor program. State acknowledged weaknesses in its oversight and administration of the program. On April 7, 2006, State published revised rules and regulations in the Federal Registry. The proposed regulations point to the abuses in the trainee program that GAO reported as partial rationale for the regulatory changes. GAO also reported potential abuse of agricultural training programs and recommended that State obtain data on labor market abuses to assess risks associated with the program. To address GAO's concerns, according to a policy statement effective January 24, 2006, State consulted with the Department of Labor and the Department of Agriculture to develop ways to better monitor agricultural programs. State also suspended the designation of new agricultural training programs and the expansion of existing programs pending resolution of the issue.

    Recommendation: To enhance the overall management and monitoring of the Summer Work Travel and the Trainee programs, the Secretary of State should fully implement a compliance unit to better monitor exchange program activities and address deficiencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2005, GAO recommended (State Department: Stronger Action Needed to Improve Oversight and Assess Risks of the Summer Work Travel and Trainee Categories of the Exchange Visitor Program, GAO-06-106, 10/14/05) that State update and amend the regulations governing the Trainee category of the Exchange Visitor program. State acknowledged weaknesses in its oversight and administration of the program. On April 7, 2006, State published revised rules and regulations in the Federal Registry. The proposed regulations point to the abuses in the trainee program that GAO reported as partial rationale for the regulatory changes. GAO also reported potential abuse of agricultural training programs and recommended that State obtain data on labor market abuses to assess risks associated with the program. To address GAO's concerns, according to a policy statement effective January 24, 2006, State consulted with the Department of Labor and the Department of Agriculture to develop ways to better monitor agricultural programs. State also suspended the designation of new agricultural training programs and the expansion of existing programs pending resolution of the issue.

    Recommendation: To enhance the overall management and monitoring of the Summer Work Travel and the Trainee programs, the Secretary of State should update and amend the regulations where necessary.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2005, GAO recommended (State Department: Stronger Action Needed to Improve Oversight and Assess Risks of the Summer Work Travel and Trainee Categories of the Exchange Visitor Program, GAO-06-106, 10/14/05) that State update and amend the regulations governing the Trainee category of the Exchange Visitor program. State acknowledged weaknesses in its oversight and administration of the program. On April 7, 2006, State published revised rules and regulations in the Federal Registry. The proposed regulations point to the abuses in the trainee program that GAO reported as partial rationale for the regulatory changes. GAO also reported potential abuse of agricultural training programs and recommended that State obtain data on labor market abuses to assess risks associated with the program. To address GAO's concerns, according to a policy statement effective January 24, 2006, State consulted with the Department of Labor and the Department of Agriculture to develop ways to better monitor agricultural programs. State also suspended the designation of new agricultural training programs and the expansion of existing programs pending resolution of the issue.

    Recommendation: To enhance the overall management and monitoring of the Summer Work Travel and the Trainee programs, the Secretary of State should develop strategies to obtain data, such as information on overstays and program abuses, to assess the risks associated with the program, and use the results of its assessment to focus its management and monitoring efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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