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California Resort Accused of Exploiting International Student Workers

Internships


A complaint filed with the U.S. State Department last week alleges Terranea Resort, located in Los Angeles, violated federal regulations by replacing its entry-level cooks with migrant workers on visas from Asian countries.  Ths unlawful business practice has been going on for at least four years.

What Triggers the Complaint

NBC News reported: “The complaint asserts that Terranea Resort workers with J-1 visas, reserved for people participating in programs that promote cultural exchange, are paid less than at least some of their non-J-1 counterparts and do not receive raises during their employment.”

Asian Student Workers Exploited

How the Story Has Unfolded

Wahid Rahman and his fiancée Falak Rashid, both from India, was interviewed earlier in 2017.    In June, the couple was notified that they had been offered a 12-month internship at the 102-acre luxury Terranea Resort on the Southern California coast.

The couple spent a totaling over $12,000, according to the complaint, for the trip to the United States.   “Both they and their families had to borrow money to cover the costs,” the complaint alleges.

The couple said after an orientation, they were assigned to the resort’s in-room dining kitchen and worked with five other J-1 holders, three of them from the Philippines and two from Malaysia.    Their hourly wage was $14.5, standard for the industry in Los Angeles area, but they did not have any benefit.

Training Internship Fails to Meet Expectation

The couple complained: “There were no ‘structured and guided activities such as classroom training, seminars, rotation through multiple departments, on-the-job training, attendance at conferences, or similar learning activities.”

Exploiting Disquises as Cultural Exchange

The Indian couple cut their exchange culture internship short in late September  (6 weeks after the internship started) due to their disagreement with the chef, whom they claimed was “unprofessional and abusive.”

Other Complaints

According to NBC:

  • ”The complaint accuses Terranea Resort of unlawfully using the J-1 program as a substitute for ordinary employment and of conduct that appears to constitute “fraud in foreign labor contracting,” in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
  • International Education Exchange, Inc., an agency that sponsors culinary training internships on the J-1 visa program at Terranea Resort, failed to provide clear information and materials to the Indian couple on the housing type and cost involved with the internship.

The Terranea Resort’s Rebuttal

According to Burns, the Terranea Resort spokesperson:

  • Terranea Resort does provide incoming interns with information on temporary housing options.   “Outgoing interns, as well as the coordinating agency, often assist incoming interns with acclimating to their new surroundings.”
  • “Terranea Resort has been an authorized sponsor in the exchange visitor program since 2011, and has had more than 160 students complete internships there. Interns are recruited from schools and are pursuing their culinary degrees.”

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