Official statement from WITCC regarding recent J-1 program concerns

Local News

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) – Western Iowa Tech Community College released a statement about the recent concerns about their J-1 program.

In light of the recent questions and concerns of the J1 program, Western Iowa Tech Community College (WITCC) will be holding a press conference at 2:00 today on Tuesday, January 21 at the W108 on the campus of WITCC (4647 Stone Ave, Parking lot 3, Entrance 12). The purpose of this press conference is to offer information about the student requirements of the J1 program, WITCC’s relationship with the International students, and future plans for the program.

In early 2019, Western Iowa Tech Community College embarked on a new journey to provide educational opportunities as well as provide real-world training and internships for cultural exchange students. The State Department granted the college the ability to have J-1 visa students to study and to get both theoretical training and real-world training. WITCC pursued this program in hopes of providing students with a credential and work experience that would help them to have a better life upon their return to their country. The College was also excited to provide an exchange for the benefit of the International students and the students here at WITCC.

WITCC recruited students and sent then representatives to interview them in Chile and Brazil. Sixty students arrived in July and August of 2019. WITCC partnered with Siouxland businesses to provide jobs for the students and jointly offer scholarships. In accordance with the approved J1 visa application, the students worked full time for minimum wage. In addition, the businesses and WITCC provided scholarships to offset the cost of tuition, housing, and fees.

The J1 Visa students are not responsible, have not paid for nor will be asked to pay for the following:

  • Airfare from home country to the United States
  • Transportation and hotel costs accrued during travel
  • Tuition for classes Fees associated with attending college
  • Housing in the dorms on the campus of WITCC
  • Textbooks
  • Uniforms
  • Tools
  • At no point were student expected to repay anything should they leave the program early

The students were initially held responsible for the cost of their health insurance, however, WITCC has covered all of the costs associated with health insurance thus far.

In return for these accommodations, students agreed to the following:

  • Work at least 32 hours a week at their sponsoring employer
  • Attend classes full-time
  • Attend English courses if English skills are determined to be lower than necessary to perform academic and internship duties
  • Attend classes in their program and maintain a minimum of a 2.0
  • Attend internship and receive positive reviews from their internship supervisor
  • Live in the Western Iowa Tech student housing
  • Return to home country after graduation or upon the request of the college at the student’s expense
  • Communicate about their whereabouts to the International department
  • No use of tobacco, drugs, alcohol, weapons or firearms on campus
  • Provide proof of health insurance
  • Provide proof of social security number
  • Should the student not meet these requirements they would be asked return to their home country at their own expense

WITCC undertook the effort to house and educate 60 international students after careful planning and consideration. We felt a tremendous responsibility to make these students feel like they were at home. We were incredibly proud of the welcoming response from the employees here at the college. Staff members have opened their homes to many of these students. We have arranged for outings at entertainment venues, movies, and trips. A group of 30 students were taken to a special outing on Christmas day. Staff held a clothing drive for winter clothes. It is safe to say that many friendships have been formed between these students and our employees. Many employees view them as family.

In November of 2019, the J1 program was reviewed by the US Department of State and provided the college with midcourse corrections and modifications. The College is working hard to find partnering employers to provide the required training component of this program. Internships have been secured for 43 students with 7 still remaining. WITCC continues to be in communication with the US Department of State to ensure continued compliance with federal regulations. We are aggressively pursuing these internships as we want these students to be successful. From the very beginning, we have been working to help these students and make this a positive experience for them.

We have been in regular communication with the students, and met with them frequently, but there was evidently a failure to clarify expectations. While some students were promoted at work, we were aware that some aspects of the program were not what the students had hoped for. In those instances, we worked with them to find new positions. Where that was not possible, WITCC offered to pay for the students’ airfare to their home country if they decided not to pursue the program. Several WITCC administrators met with the J1 students face-to-face on two separate occasions. Five students accepted the offer and returned home at no cost to them. Under no circumstances were students threatened with deportation. According to the signed agreement, students would have to pay their way home if they did not fulfill the requirements of the program. However, with the unforeseen changes in the program, we were not holding any students to that agreement and paid their way home.

Another issue raised by students related to meals and it has become clear there was a breakdown in communication regarding food. WITCC has provided some resources such as gift cards and access to the college’s food pantry. While there is no contractual obligation on WITCC’s part to do so, WITCC is in the process of securing food for students during the remainder of the program.

We are shocked and saddened to learn of their experience and heard about these concerns for the first time yesterday. We will work with the students to find solutions. We fully know this process wasn’t perfect and that we met some challenges. Despite everything, we are still 100% committed to their success.

The college is taking the following actions:

  • Find internships for seven remaining students
  • Strengthen our communications with the J1 students to ensure they understand all of their requirements and plans moving forward
  • Work with students to find solutions for meals
  • Ensure a safe and supportive environment exists for continued learning

Even though we have experienced some issues with this program, we’ve had a tremendous amount of success as well. Every student who participated has received between 12-15 college credits and is on schedule to graduate. Students have been exposed to numerous cultural experiences and many lifelong friendships have been formed.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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