Every year, 30,000 J-1 foreign exchange students are enrolled in our American high schools to experience a year of American culture and improve their English. A J-1 Visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows foreign exchange students to study in the U.S. if they are sponsored by a nationally recognized foreign exchange organization. Exchange students on this visa may stay for one year.
The local community, particularly parents of high school students, were heavily recruited by student exchange agencies over the summer months seeking families to host these visiting teens for five to 10 months. It is ideal for an exchange student to have a host sister or brother to help with adjustment to American culture by introducing them to events and activities enjoyed in high school. And for most American high school students, the first exposure to foreign nationals is the foreign exchange student.
But there have been numerous cases of abuse of foreign exchange students by host families throughout the world. The deaths of Amber DuBois and Chelsea King brought into sharp focus that there are 700,000 convicted sexual predators in the U.S. The United States Department of State is now proposing tighter scrutiny before foreign exchange students can be placed in homes.
Yet, lack of fingerprint criminal background checks exposes foreign exchange students to the danger of being placed with a convicted sexual predator due to the absence of this vital child protection measure for this vulnerable group.
The Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students is awaiting a new federal regulation that will require adults in host families of foreign exchange students to have fingerprint criminal background checks.
A retired parole officer, Carlos Cartlidge, worked tirelessly to enact this child protection measure after he found foreign exchange students living with convicted sexual predators who he was charged with monitoring. He contacted CSFES and shared his invaluable expertise in this area.
CSFES began to advocate for fingerprint criminal background checks in 2005. In 50 years, the U.S. Dept. of State has not required the same level of child protection measures for foreign teenagers as have been enacted to protect American children.
Public comment on the proposed federal regulation closed on June 3, 2010 (Federal Register Volume 74, Issue 245 22 CFR Part 62 RIN Number 1400-AC56 Cultural Exchange Program Exchange Visitor Program; Secondary School Students). It stated:
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (Pub. L. 109-248) requires FBI fingerprint-based checks for all prospective foster care or adoptive parents. Given the closely related nature of the placement of a foreign exchange student aged 15-18 with American host parents to that of a foster care placement or adoption (e.g., long-term residence of a child with a new “host” family) the Department proposes to mirror existing adoptive/foster care criminal background check laws. In light of the Adam Walsh Act, the above cited Attorney General’s Report, and the direct correlation of a foster parent to an Exchange Visitor Program host parent, we propose to seek the FBI’s commitment to conduct fingerprint-based criminal background checks on host family members.
Families interested in hosting a foreign exchange student should become informed before accepting this responsibility for caring for the child of another family who will be thousands of miles away and may not speak English. The financial costs include food, transportation and shelter which can total over $10,000. It’s also important to contact the local high school to ensure that it can accommodate an extra student.
CSFES is a California-based 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation advocating the safety, protection and well being of exchange students around the world and was instrumental in the strengthening of the U.S. Department of State regulations for the protection of these young people. This new federal regulation will provide the best screening method currently available, as noted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in a study in 2005.
Many wonderful memories and lifelong international friendships can result from participating in the Exchange Visitor Program of the United States. It is the cornerstone of our nation’s public diplomacy efforts. Planning in advance and being informed can ensure a positive experience for the foreign teenager and the host family.