Some foreign workers find frustration in Wisconsin Dells

Mikael Sankko (foreground), 22, from Finland, cleans up after the Tommy Bartlett Water-Ski Show along with other foreign workers from Turkey, Ecuador and Finland. Luke Davis/WCIJ

By Alec Luhn
For the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

WISCONSIN DELLS — Osman Mehmeti, a college student from Kosovo, traveled more than 5,000 miles and paid $3,000 in fees and airfare to work at Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells, which bills itself as “The Waterpark Capital of the World.”

Mehmeti was hired by the hotel and water park in 2009, joining an estimated 2,000 foreign students who use a federal work-travel exchange program to help keep one of Wisconsin’s top tourism destinations running. The program has become a crucial source of seasonal labor for tourism areas around the country and in Wisconsin, including the Dells and Door County.

“Always in the beginning they were saying you are working good,” Mehmeti, 23, said in an interview.

But, Mehmeti said, he was among a group of students fired in August 2009 before the scheduled end of their jobs at Chula Vista. Other foreign student workers in the Dells say they’ve had to contend with substandard housing conditions. And one was killed this summer in a bicycle accident that officials say illustrates dangerous transportation problems for student workers in the Dells.

A two-month investigation by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found that while many foreign students have positive experiences in Wisconsin Dells, some encounter economic, housing and transportation safety problems while working under the federal work-travel program overseen by the U.S. Department of State.

Interviews with business owners, federal officials, sponsor agencies, overseas and local recruiters, former participants and 24 current student workers in the federal program show that problems in the Dells include:

– Some students arrive from abroad to find their job offers have been canceled, their work hours are fewer than promised, or they are let go when business slows down.

– Federal regulations don’t cover employers or recruiting agencies, leaving students with little recourse if they feel they’ve been mistreated.

– While many businesses provide reasonable living arrangements, a high demand for housing leaves other students living in substandard conditions. Since 2008, two Dells-area motels that had housed students have been closed because of health and safety violations.

– A lack of public transportation means some young workers face dangerous bicycle rides on heavily congested roads. In July, a Russian student was killed while riding along Wisconsin Dells Parkway. Nineteen of the 21 bicycle-vehicle crashes reported in Wisconsin Dells and Lake Delton since 2008 involved international students, police reports indicate.

In 2009, 99,672 international students came to the United States on the work-travel exchange program, down 35 percent from 152,958 the year before.

The decrease followed a call by the Department of State for work-travel sponsors to voluntarily reduce the number of participants in light of the national economic downturn, according to an agency spokesperson.

Daniel Saenz, 22, from Ecuador, sells refreshments at the Tommy Bartlett Water-Ski Show on Lake Delton. Luke Davis/WCIJ

For many students, the gamble of working in America pays off. They improve their English, gain work experience and earn money to pay off the program cost, travel to places like the Grand Canyon or pay for their college education back home.

Some also overstay their visas; one Dells motel manager who has worked with many work-travel students believes at least 10 percent don’t return as scheduled to their native countries.

Others, including Mehmeti, leave disappointed and with little of the goodwill that the federal program is supposed to engender.

Mehmeti said he was fired by Chula Vista last August along with 12 other foreign student employees. He said managers complained they weren’t performing housekeeping work quickly or carefully enough. But he believes it was because of slow business.

A second student employee, Elitsa Hristova, from Bulgaria, said she was among those who were fired.

Pat Finnegan, general manager of Chula Vista, said he doesn’t recall any such incident from last summer. He said the resort would not have terminated student workers because business was slow.

“Simply firing someone because we don’t have hours is not how we do business,” Finnegan said, adding, “Even at the slowest time of year, we’re still looking for people.”

But GeoVisions, the New Hampshire sponsor company that arranged for Mehmeti to work at Chula Vista, isn’t placing any students at the resort this year because of several “things” that happened there in 2009, chief operating officer Jim Miller said. He declined to provide details.

“My dream was to come here and see the U.S.A. and improve my language and to make some money,” said Mehmeti, whose journey began with an advertisement he saw at his university back in Kosovo. ”But when I came to the U.S.A., everything was terrible in Chula Vista.”

Some local residents say there should be someone to stick up for the temporary workers.  The Rev. Jay Heesch, pastor of the Pine Valley Church in Wisconsin Dells, often invites students for meals and other activities. He hears complaints about work and living conditions.

“They need an advocate, and I am beginning to lose my patience as summer after summer they get treated like second-class citizens,” Heesch wrote in an e-mail.

Foreign workers fill labor shortage

Sunrise on the Wisconsin Dells Parkway: About 2,000 foreign students come to the Dells each year to fill out the summer work force. Many pay between $2,500 and $4,500 in airfare and fees to get the jobs, but they’re not always guaranteed. Luke Davis/WCIJ

The Dells, a conglomeration of resorts, water parks and other attractions, is one of Wisconsin’s top tourist destinations. It draws 3 million visitors who spend an estimated $1 billion a year.

The local tourism industry is fueled by the equivalent of 23,500 full-time jobs  — even though the year-round population of Wisconsin Dells and adjacent Lake Delton is about 5,500.

A significant portion of that gap is filled each year by thousands of foreign student workers who come to the Dells to clean hotel rooms, operate amusement rides and wait tables.

No one is sure how many Dells workers are work-travel students, since no private or government agency tracks the number of them in the area.

Lake Delton Village Board member Tom Diehl, who owns properties including the Tommy Bartlett Water-Ski Show on Lake Delton, estimated there are about 2,000 work-travel students this year among the thousands of summer workers, about the same as last year.

Participants come to the United States on J-1 exchange visitor visas, as do nannies, visiting scholars and others. The program was established in 1961 to increase understanding between the people of the United States and other countries through educational and cultural exchanges.

Of the 24 current participants from 14 countries interviewed for this article, 10 said they were having a positive experience. An additional four said their experience is positive overall, but they have some complaints.

Claudiu Aionesei, a former work-travel student from Romania who has a permanent job at the Kalahari Resort Convention Center, said he has “heard more positive opinions than negative ones” from students about the program. He said students who were allowed to work plenty of hours tended to be content.

Ten students interviewed for this article said their experience has been negative in the Dells.

The students’ grievances included a lack of communication with their physically distant sponsors, poor housing conditions, false or incomplete claims made by work-travel recruiters abroad and poor or deceitful treatment at the hands of employers.

It’s not clear who’s to blame. Some work-travel participants and business owners feel international students arrive with unrealistic expectations about how much they will earn or the type of housing they will have.

Labor gap grows over decade

Tom Diehl, owner of the Tommy Bartlett Water-Ski Show, prepares for the evening’s entertainment. "The Dells could not survive without J-1 kids," says Diehl, referring to the visa program that brings thousands of international students to the Dells each year. He said the success of the student-worker program rests on employers treating students fairly. Luke Davis/WCIJ

The Wisconsin Dells tourism industry began to expand in the early 1990s as new resorts including the Wilderness, Great Wolf and Kalahari were built and existing properties such as Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park and Noah’s Ark Waterpark expanded. The demand for labor came to far exceed the supply of willing workers.

International students with J-1 visas now form an integral part of the Dells labor force, according to large employers in the area. Diehl, for example, has been bringing in work-travel students from Finland for 11 years and currently employs 38 Finns, one student from Ecuador and one from Turkey among his 150 summer workers.

Although Diehl had more Americans applying for positions this year because of the recession, it’s still not enough to meet his employment needs, he said.

“The Dells could not survive without J-1 kids,” Diehl said.

Part of the demand for international students stems from the fact that many young Americans who in the past filled seasonal jobs are no longer willing to move to south-central Wisconsin to perform onerous, low-wage work such as housekeeping, said Katherine Frankov, a local motel manager who has worked with many J-1 students.

By contrast, “J-1′s are willing to do anything and everything,” she said.

Several large employers were reluctant to discuss their employment of work-travel students.

Of the eight largest businesses that belong to the Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau, a representative of Mt. Olympus declined to say how many work-travel students the company employs or be interviewed for this article. Management at the Great Wolf Lodge, Ho-Chunk Casino and Hotel and Kalahari didn’t return several phone calls.

Those that did respond reported employing about 700 international students who make up varying fractions of their workforces: 6 percent at Original Wisconsin Ducks and Dells Boat Tours, 18 percent at Chula Vista Resort, about 23 percent at Wilderness Resort and 33 percent at Noah’s Ark.

Traveling across the world to work

With several steps and middlemen along the way, coming to work in the United States on a J-1 visa can be fraught with difficulties.

The road to work-travel can start with an employer seeking student workers, a student job-searching from abroad or an agency soliciting job offers and recruiting participants.

“It’s hard to generalize because the program can work in so many different ways,” Department of State spokeswoman Laura Tischler said.

In many cases, a foreign recruiting agency — which may or may not be affiliated with a U.S.-approved sponsor organization — advertises work-travel opportunities and helps students apply, for a fee.

Eventually, each student must apply with a sponsor organization designated by the Department of State. The sponsor then issues a form confirming the student has enough money to live in the United States. Students bring that form to a U.S. consulate or embassy to get their visas.

Counting fees from the sponsor company, a foreign recruiting agency and the visa process, as well as insurance coverage and airfare to the United States, most students pay between $2,500 and $4,500 to come to Wisconsin to work.

Some jobs missing on arrival

Federal regulations require sponsor organizations to place at least 50 percent of their participants in jobs. But employers aren’t obligated to hire any student who signs a job offer, leaving some stranded with no job upon their arrival.

That’s what Emil Aghayev, a student from Azerbaijan who thought he was slated to work at Wilderness Resort, said happened to him.

When Aghayev arrived at the resort June 14, he was told his offer to earn $7.50 an hour as a lifeguard starting June 18 had been canceled, he said.

Wilderness spokeswoman Heidi Fendos said Aghayev was denied employment because the resort had issued a job offer to “Emil Guliyev,” and that “Guliyev” had been whited out on the job offer, and “Aghayev” written in.

Aghayev’s recruiting agency in Azerbaijan, Delta Education, offered a conflicting version of events. A Delta spokesman said Aghayev forgot to bring the job offer document with him from Azerbaijan. According to the company, it e-mailed Aghayev another copy June 30 and helped him try to find another job in the Dells when that didn’t work.

But Aghayev contended he never heard back from Delta Education after he told them the job at Wilderness had been cancelled.

Regardless, Aghayev found himself halfway across the world with no job, unable to pay back the $3,000 in fees and airfare his family had lent him.

“I am angry because I have paid so much money,” he said. “My father and my mother need me; I must earn money, and I didn’t get anything.”

After weeks spent searching unsuccessfully for a job, Aghayev returned to Azerbaijan in mid-July, according to a receptionist at the motel where he had lived. Attempts in August to reach Agheyev to further discuss his job quest were unsuccessful.

Adam Muller runs a Dells-based agency that places foreign students in jobs and housing. He said he wears a captain’s hat so students can easily identify him. Alec Luhn/WCIJ

Jobs sometimes hard to find

Other students arrive without an offer and must begin job hunting, often hampered by poor English skills and limited knowledge of the United States.

The federal rules require sponsors to “undertake reasonable efforts to secure suitable employment” for those who haven’t found a job after a week of searching.

Employment for such students is hard to find, said Adam Muller, a former Dells motel owner who now runs International Employment Resources, the only Dells-based agency that finds jobs and housing for work-travel students. He said students should be required to sign a form warning they may not make extra money or even be employed once they get to the United States.

Because of errors in immigration databases, students also sometimes face delays of up to three months in getting Social Security numbers to work in the United States, said Lois Magee of the nonprofit immigrant rights organization the American Immigration Council. Magee has years of experience working with J-1 students at both the council and the YMCA.

“If you’ve got a good Romanian last name, it is likely that the (customs) agent didn’t enter it in correctly,” Magee said. “In my experience, roughly 50 percent of the people who come into the U.S. do not have their information correctly entered.”

Too few hours

Finnish employee Kira Koljonen, 23, talks to a child at the Tommy Bartlett Water-Ski Show snack stand. According to her boss, Tom Diehl, many foreign students have applied to Tommy Bartlett when they can't get enough hours at their first job. Luke Davis/WCIJ

The biggest problem mentioned by students is fewer work hours than expected.

No minimum or maximum number of hours is established in federal regulations, although many sponsors include a spot on their documentation for employers to indicate hours per week. Six of the students interviewed, however, said they were receiving fewer hours than stated in their job offers.

Diehl said he has seen a stream of international students apply for second jobs at his properties this summer.

“They are not getting the hours they thought they were going to get,” he said.

Gizem Akarsu, 24, from Turkey, said she was told she would work 40 hours a week at Wilderness, but only gets 20 hours a week, which isn’t enough to cover her living costs.

Fendos, the Wilderness spokeswoman, said the number of hours stipulated in the job offer is an average that may fluctuate, adding that the resort will work with any student who feels he isn’t getting the correct number of hours.

Gabriela Martinez, Stephanie Russo and Viviana Oñate, friends from Ecuador who work at the Polynesian water park and resort, said their job offers stated they would work 30 hours a week, but they’ve been working less than that. The general manager of the Polynesian declined to be interviewed for this article.

“We don’t get anything we were supposed to,” Russo wrote in a follow-up e-mail.  “I think this trip is not being what I planned.”

Under the J-1 visa rules, employers aren’t regulated by the Department of State.

“The only real incentive in place for employers to treat people fairly is they don’t want to get a bad reputation in the host country,” said Patrick Hickey, director of the Workers’ Rights Center of Madison, an advocacy group seeking to resolve problems in the workplace.

Diehl agreed, saying, ”The success or future of an international program depends on word of mouth.”

‘Sweet words’ hide true cost of program

Recruiting agencies located in students’ home countries also aren’t subject to state department oversight. Students say recruiters sometimes fan unrealistic expectations.

“They told us we were going to win a lot of money and a lot of hours,” Russo said of Ordex International, the Ecuador-based recruiting agency that placed her and her friends.

Teresa Rivera, the director of Ordex, said the agency helps students create a budget of likely expenses and expected income based on their job offers but doesn’t guarantee the students will earn enough to pay off the cost of the program.

Yevgenii Moiseyev, 19, from Russia, said in an interview in Russian that the recruiting agency he worked with in St. Petersburg exaggerated earning potential with “sweet words” to attract students.

“They play on naivete, and that’s the way they make money,” said Moiseyev, who works 25 to 30 hours a week at the Park Motel and wants a second job to help pay off $2,600 in airfare and program fees.

“The first job only covers coming here, (program) fees and room and board,” said Russian student Elizaveta Chernousova, 21, who works full-time as a housekeeper at the local Best Western Ambassador Inn. With a second job, you can travel, she said.

But many students “need to work two jobs just to make ends meet,” said Frankov, the motel manager, adding, “That’s not even talking about saving money.”

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with its partners — Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio and the UW-Madison School of Journalism & Mass Communication — and other news media. The Wisconsin Dells Events newspaper contributed to this report. Alec Luhn can be reached at aluhn *at* wisconsinwatch.org.

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22 Responses to “Some foreign workers find frustration in Wisconsin Dells”

  1. :-D says:

    I’m coming this summer. :-D

    • Elena says:

      Think twice. I’ve been there in 2008 and it was nothing like promised. I got there and had no job as planned. Had to pay rent tough, and deposit and food, but with no job and no earnings for 3 weeks, I was running very low on cash. I ended up surviving with one coke and 2 donuts per day. Lost almost 8kg in those 3 weeks. Then, I found a job on my own and managed somehow and now i can laugh at all the bad moments. I would recommend any other place for summer jobs tough.

  2. wb says:

    With the economy the way it is, American businesses should be employing Americans first. Why bring in more resources when the unemployment rate is so high? There are plenty of people here that need jobs. Give America a chance and hire Americans.

  3. Wendy says:

    “Most had positive experiences” – this is key. The rest of the experiences, i.e. transportation and housing, is to be expected in a tourist town like the WI Dells. And might i add, none of the foreign students have ever been rude to me, but the U.S. citizen workers have.

  4. Sukotb says:

    Latino workers experience the same difficulties that these workers experience too and I have yet to see them behave in such manner. I travel across the country quiet often and the hotel rooms are always clean and even if the Mexican worker does not speak English very well they at least try to speak the language or give me a smile. Nothing justifies a job poorly done or rudeness especially when it comes to public relations. My family and I also had some bad experiences with the foreign workers at Wisconsin Dells. The Inn we stayed at was employed by all Russians and Romanians. Upon our arrival the desk clerk barely greeted us, just handed our keys to us, we had to find our room and everything else by ourselves. The room had not been vacuum, the floor was full of crumbs that remained there during our entire stay, the sheets were not changed everyday and the room had an old wet smell to it. So basically housekeeping only went to our room to replace towels and throw the covers on the beds. We also got locked out of our room on our third day even though we had extended our stay an extra day prior to our arrival, we confirmed the extra day upon our arrival but yet received a called the day our our original check out day asking why we had not checked out. Then after thinking they had corrected their error we get to our room only to find out that we had been locked out of our room! Very frustrating situation. One that could have been avoided if they had done their job job done correctly before our arrival.

    We went to the go carts and when my daughter asked for help with her seatbelt the Russian employee girl roll her eyes at us! We did laser tag at another place and the Romanian woman at the gate was unable to really explain anything about the game to us, she acted like we were such a drag. I noticed that these foreign workers do not greet or smile at the tourists. They act like robots who only want to receive their pay. I am surprised that these workers are allowed to work in public if they have no customer service experience and are English limited. A nice hello and smile is not that hard to do. The only smiles and friendliness my family and I received were by the non Europe workers. We had a really nice Asian girl at the photo check out at Noah’s Ark, a very polite talkative African waitress at Dennys and a smiling Latina lady at Kalahari.
    Perhaps that is just how Europeans are.

  5. Ben P says:

    I just returned from a 3 day weekend at Wis Dells.
    The hotel we stayed at had two foreign workers that housekept.
    The two men were terribly rude. My wife was showering at about 10am(post swim) when they knocked on our door. I told them just a minute, but they unlocked the door and came in to my room! I told them to leave since my wife was showering, but they just chuckled and asked for any soiled towels I had. I gave them to them and told them to come back later. they chuckled again and said: “want us to make your bed?” These men spoke english just fine, they simply were two college boys who really didnt care about the job they had, they simply were there to have fun. I was livid. I know that most of the seasonal workers work hard (especially at Paul Bunyan’s) but the men at my hotel really make me wish that these places to suck it up and get american workers to work for the season again. Or even make these positions flex-part time jobs. I would gladly take on part time time work at the Dells 10-15 hours a week in the summer.

  6. Roxy M says:

    I was just recently in the Dells for a quick vacation with my husband. I noticed (like many others) that every single worker either had an accent, or could not speak English very well. I do feel badly for many of the foreign workers that are mistreated by their “boss’s” but I do want to note, that I had the worst customer service by almost 95% of the foreign workers. I am kind to anybody I come accross no matter their language, ethnicity, etc. Nobody deserved to be treated poorly, so I am not stating this just because I am “unfriendly” toward any non-americans.
    One problem I had, was when I would ask a question, they would not answer it correctly since they really did not know what I was saying. I also found that many of them were more interested in chatting amongst one another, and rolling their eyes at Americans than actually being there to work hard and do their jobs. One shop downtown that I had visited, my husband and I had to try 3 different times to get the attention of a foreign worker, just to ask for a list of flavors. Finally we got her attention, and all she did was point her finger towards a sign on the other side of the counter. Then she turned her back to us, and continued to talk to her co-worker.
    I experienced this multiple time throughout Noah’s Ark as well. My husband is from another country, and he was disgusted by the attitude of the young workers towards those vacationing Americans. Even though they consider the pay to be very little, and they live in very small rooms, they should still show respect to those who live in this country. We are still offereing the jobs.
    Again, I AM against all those business owners who treat them like they are nothing, and low because they are not from this country. Ever single person should be treated fairly, same as they should treat us fairly as well. And perhaps I just happened to encounter many rude foreigners and lucked out in meeting those who are truly polite.

  7. Jack says:

    Twenty-five years ago, when I was a teenager and would go up to the Dells from Madison, all of the lifeguards and waterpark employees were other teenagers from all over WI and northern IL. Having just visited the Dells again, I didn’t experience a single American teenager or young twenty-something working at any of the attractions we visited. What this tells me is that these Dells tourist attractions either treat their empoyees poorly or pay them very little (or both!). If that was not the case, then American teenagers would still be flocking to the Dells for work every summer. I hope the foreign students who are thinking about coming here for summer work ask themselves why Americans are not taking these jobs before they apply. Of course, with a 50% unemployment rate in some European countries right now for young people under age 25, maybe they have no choice.

  8. Bob Wynne says:

    This article changed my initial opinion of what I thought was going on with foreign workers specifically in the dells area as I vacation there often. hats off to the few who agreed to be interviewed and treat their employeesa as human beings and not tools. Greed is a akin to a disease and its exactly what is killing our United States.
    I for one will treat the help in the dells with much more respect after reading and learning about what they go through. I understand this is big business but it doesn’t mean that the business can’t at least appoint someone specifically to make sure theses kids are pointed in the right directions.If they can’t see to it from a humanitarion stand point that stop and resalize Mr. Big business that word of mouth is much of what brings people to your business and thses workers spread the word as well and they take it all over the world. Money is required to survive but Greed tells the afflicted that they need to own it all no matter what. if you’ve ever helped anyone who truely needed it you’ve opened a window that should show you that we were made for so much more than we may realize. Great eye opening article and work here! Thank you.

  9. Penelope says:

    Having lived in the student housing and worked in the Dells for a summer, I can attest that life is not easy for international student workers. They need more local advocates who will be willing to help them through their limited English to find the answers to their questions, to provide safe transportation to purchase groceries and to get to government offices to complete necessary paperwork, to help them negotiate any problems with their employers and their housing landlords, and even to provide a telephone. Most of the problems for the international students arise because they simply don’t know who to turn to when they have questions. So many of these issues can be solved when community members step up to show the foreign students respect and help them adjust to life in a foreign country.

    I knew several students who got connected with caring local citizens, and their experiences were significantly more positive than those who had to try to navigate their summers without help. The students who formed relationships with locals were able to get answers to simple questions such as where to mail letters, where to cash paychecks, how to get to the grocery store, how to make local phone calls, and where to purchase a used bicycle for the summer. They had someone who welcomed them to the United States and made them feel comfortable.

  10. Nigel McGann says:

    I worked in the dells in 1999 as a busboy in a local diner on the strip. There was about 50 Irish people there that year staying in a local motel that had been converted to house us. It was the best summer ever. I made a lot of great friends who I still keep in touch with.
    I could see sometimes it was harder for the other foreign students who didn’t have English as a first language. Sometimes the cultural and language gap could isolate them slightly. As an Irish guy I had no issues with that and even spent some time with my employers outside of work hours. Really great people in the Dells.

  11. I worked in the Dells area as a student worker and I faced all kinds of trials, racism being my biggest one. My worst experience came from working at __________ where I was employed as a bus girl and I was accused of stealing tips and was even ordered to clean restrooms when that was not even apart of my duties! I was eventually fired from the job with no reasonable explanation given only that I had to be let go.The manager was a chauvinistic pig who obviously believed that anyone who wasn’t from America are living in trees like monkeys in their home countries and unable to think for themselves. He had a condescending attitude that made his approach to people quite rude. I must say that only faith and strength to know that this will not be our lives forever can keep us foreign workers going on strong because frankly if i never needed the extra cash I wouldn’t be there in the first place. This is not our lives so life goes on, it is only a stepping stone to make us stronger!

  12. Helyn says:

    I am outraged that these Wisconsin Dells employers treat these foreign people so rudely, if it wasn’t for them there would be no dells, If they paid a decent wage, then maybe more local people would apply for work, I have been cleaning hotel rooms off and on for 30 years, Its very hard work, and to be paid a measly $8.50 is an insult, these foreign people work hard when they come here, some times 2 or 3 jobs they have to have, then the americans complain that they are taking all of our jobs, Oh well, you can’t have everything your way, more americans should take notice as of how hard these people work for next to nothing, while the owners of the attractions and hotels get richer and richer from the sweat off these people, pay them what they are worth, they work hard, and they deserve it……………..

  13. If you are the representative of some hotel, restaurant, amusement park or just a service organization you certainly have wondered about personnel selection. Jobofer.org service will speed up and simplify the staff selection process by suggesting qualified personnel from other countries. They are the students who come to America for seasonal work having a short-term J1 visa, the duration of which is up to four months. Among them there are: concierges, cooks, porters, waiters, managers, lifeguards. Their expertise and a great desire to work consolidate all of them.

  14. [...]Jobs sometimes hard to find

    Other students arrive without an offer and must begin job hunting, often hampered by poor English skills and limited knowledge of the United States.[...]
    If you are the representative of some hotel, restaurant, amusement park or just a service organization you certainly have wondered about personnel selection. Jobofer.org service will speed up and simplify the staff selection process by suggesting qualified personnel from other countries. They are the students who come to America for seasonal work having a short-term J1 visa, the duration of which is up to four months. Among them there are: concierges, cooks, porters, waiters, managers, lifeguards. Their expertise and a great desire to work consolidate all of them.

  15. Yes, the biggest problem with Work/Travel USA Program is that the sponsoring organizations do not properly monitor their branches in Bulgaria, Russia, etc. The agencies there promise unrealistic earnings, plus they often overcharge students for the program and for the tickets.

  16. David Mendoza says:

    Wow, somehow I started searching about J1 Visas and job positions in Wisconsin as I wanted to go through my 2nd work and travel experience. On my first time i couldn’t complain about the amount of hours I received but my employer were people really rude and mean. There are positive things you learn from such an experience like this, like America is not what you tend to think but sometimes with faith, luck and will you could make of it a great experience. Wow..

  17. Debbie Cooley says:

    I have lived and worked in the Dells for over 20 years. In that time I have met and helped many student workers. What they are saying is very true–in the beginning it was even worse–living conditions were terrible and greedy business owners charged high rent to share a cot with 8 others in a small dinky hotel room. Some of this has been stopped but not all.

    Chula Vista is one of the worst offenders when it comes to not giving hours–they do it to their American workers as well. As they continue to expand and grow and eat up what once was a beautiful Wi. wooded area–there greed grows as well.

    The risk to the students is all jobs rest on what kind of season the Dells is having–if it is busy they can supplement their losses with jobs else where but if it is slow like this season–the hours are cut or not there at all. I am glad to hear the one Co. is no longer placing at Chula because good or bad times–it is the same at Chula.

    To be fair–not all Dells business mistreat the workers–many have been hiring from this program long before it became a staple here and the kids mostly had a very positive experience.
    The kids should be adviced as the economy here is in trouble so are their potential jobs–before they ever leave their homes.

    • Mal says:

      I came to live in the Dells area a couple of years ago. I had gotten a J1 Visa valid for 18 months to work at_____________
      . I had received a contract from the agency saying it was an internship program for people who already had college degree. As I thought it would be a wonderful experience to have an international experience, it turned out this wasn’t nothing like I expected.

      The student agency back in my country had given me an English test that took two hours. It was written, and oral. Then a couple days later I had another interview over the phone with someone that worked for HR at this resort.

      I paid almost four thousand dollars for the program, including the VISA and the ticket fair. I received a four page contract stating what I was going to do from month 1-18. For someone who had college degree in tourism with an extended course in hotel management I thought : WOW. This is awesome. The contract said I was going to work at the front desk, reservation department. Even though it said housekeeping, it was clear I would be working in an office setting. Of course it wouldn’t be a problem to do housekeeping job for about two weeks because in order to work in the office setting, we need to understand the process of cleaning the rooms.

      So I left my job in a international company back in my country to go towards this adventure that for sure it wasn’t the greatest in the first months. The housing (dorm) was in terrible conditions and I would have to share with possible other three girls. There was no kitchen, and the light was just from an old lamp. Thank God I was just sharing with one person when I came. They asked me to pay $ 250 dollars deposit, but this deposit they said later it wasn’t the deposit for the housing but for the program. Basically, if you quit working for them, they don’t give your money back. Well, for an employer who doesn’t even give the promised hours established in the contract (30 hours a week minimum), how is that possible not to quit? I have seen they keeping the deposit from lots of students who quit because they didn’t give them hours, and they threat them to cancel their visas. I think this is the main issue. If those students have their visas canceled, they won’t be able to come back, so some ended up staying because they don’t know how to report and communicate with sponsors and their English is very limited.

      So talking about my personal experience, I was being charged bout $ 70 per week for this house, uniform, name tag, $1 dollar per day to wash the uniform. The pay rate was only $ 6.50 an hour (15 hours a week, sometimes 20). But I hadn’t come for the money, but for the international experience.

      They also claimed they give you a second job, which was not a second job – it was working in a different department, such as cleaning rooms or putting bottle of water in each room for $ 5.20,which I believe is against the law to pay under the minimum wage.

      I kept those pay checks for a long time and sent them to my sponsor later.

      As they never followed the contract, of course I never worked at the front desk. They said my English was limited. So how come I had passed in that English test at the first place? I was asked to clean the floor and serve food, such as pretzel and nachos and cheese. The winter came and they gave me zero hours for an entire month so I had to quit. They told me they wouldn’t give my $250 back but I complained with the sponsor. Before this hotel cancel my Visa, I made all the changes involving the student agency, the immigration and my sponsor.

      I made sure to change my VISA to another employer before they could do anything against me. The owner of the hotel was very upset and yelled at me saying that she forbid me to complain about them to sponsor, because this sponsor didn’t want to send more students and it was my choice to work for her hotel. I told I have the freedom to speak and express my opinions. They finally gave me the money back, but I still heard for a long time many other complains coming from those J1 Visa students. I heard they improved a little the dorms and provided van to take them to laundry and shopping at Walmart, but I heard they were still very rude to them and they still faced problems related to working hours.

      As a student I believe you don’t know much about your rights. I had a mechanic charging me $ 450 for a radiator to be put in my car. There is a dealer who sells junk cars for $1000 to students when the car should be the cost of only $ 200 or $ 300. You see 10 students sharing a 2 bedroom apartments sometimes in other areas in the Dells. It is mafia and it is sad. They pay and they are treated like those people are making them a
      favor. Some people who take advantage of those students are not even Americans, but Europeans who overstayed and learned the cruel system from past employers.

      It is true those students have two or three jobs sometimes, and they are too young. They work hard, but they also party and drink a lot. I heard and saw all kinds of things. Students going into car and bicycle accidents to tragedies in a wave pool from one of the waterpark resorts.

      I saw many limited English life guards being asked to work 16 hours shift in the summer.

      I hope my personal experience helps. I am sure there is much more to add.

  18. Yuriy says:

    Great article. Some foreign students indeed get frustrated by not being able to get what they hoped for or what they have been promised. But some employers also may get frustrated. First, some students may not arrive to the company as promised. They may get delayed as the students are not able to complete their courses on time. Or they may cancel from their job contracts altogether. Some may sign up to work as housekeepers in rural Montana, but later change their mind and go to Ocean City, or Wisconsin Dells with their friends hoping to find jobs there. Another problem is that students often overstate their English skills and professional experience on the resumes.

    So, if an employer needs to hire 50 people, he or she may sign up for 55, and reasonably expect that 5 will not show up or will not work out well. In a rare case when all 55 students arrive and work as planned, the students may end up getting fewer hours.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Main story: An estimated 2,000 foreign students flock the Dells each year on special visas to work in the tourism industry. But jobs or hours aren't always guaranteed, and some of them report the experience isn't what they had hoped. Substandard housing: For foreign students, it's hit or miss finding a decent place to stay; some motels have been closed. [...]


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