WASHINGTON, DC- In response to proposed regulations by the U.S. Department of State to improve and strengthen existing rules to protect the welfare of foreign exchange students, U.S. Senator Bob Casey sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to ensure that any newly instituted regulations were clearly defined and provided guidelines for sponsors to follow.
“I believe that further actions must be taken to strengthen current Department of State regulations in order to protect foreign exchange students who come to the United States,” wrote Senator Casey.
Senator Casey went on to write, “The regulations should provide clear direction on what constitutes a proper background check, how financial viability should be defined, and how organizations should handle common student problems.”
Since learning of reports that nine foreign exchange students between the ages of 15 and 18 were neglected and abused while studying in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Senator Casey has been actively pursuing changes to regulations of the foreign exchange student program to prevent similar abuses from happening in the future.
This summer, Senator Casey sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after the reports surfaced. Senator Casey has also sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to request regulations be established to provide the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs under the State Department the ability to employ its own management audit system to directly monitor exchange program sponsors.
According to officials, some children were in need of medical attention due to malnutrition and dehydration while others were living in unsanitary conditions and in homes that were recently condemned. Only after their teachers voiced concerns did their neglect come to light. Currently, foreign exchange students are eligible to attend approximately 430 high schools, colleges and universities throughout Pennsylvania.
Full text of the letter is below.
Dear Secretary Clinton,
Thank you for the response by the Department of State to the appalling conditions faced by twelve foreign exchange students in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. As you know, punitive action was taken against the offending sponsoring organization and employees directly involved in the incident and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) has established a toll free number for foreign exchange students to directly register complaints with the Department of State.
I believe further actions must be taken to strengthen current Department of State regulations in order to protect foreign exchange students who come to the United States. I have recently reviewed the Department of State’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking. While I welcome ECA’s decision to solicit suggestions for improving current regulations from the exchange sponsor community, any new regulations must provide specific guidelines for sponsors to follow. For example, the regulations should provide clear direction on what constitutes a proper background check, how financial viability should be defined, and how organizations should handle common student problems. In the Lackawanna case, a lack of clear regulations led the sponsors to interpret the rules in a manner that that ultimately endangered these exchange students.
It is my understanding that the Department of State’s Inspector General is working on a report that will analyze the oversight failures that led to the problems in Lackawanna County. I respectfully urge that this report be completed expeditiously since the 2009-2010 academic school year has already started. As requested, I would like to be briefed on the report upon completion.
I look forward to continuing to work with you and ECA to ensure that guidelines and regulations are in place to ensure the safety of foreign exchange students.
Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator