Sat | Jan 20, 2018

Students stranded - Mandeville firm collects big $$$ but fails to find US summer jobs

Published:Sunday | July 3, 2016 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Two persons leave the offices of International Career Partners located in Mandeville.

The operator of Mandeville-based International Career Partners (ICP) is rejecting claims that it has fleeced students who paid it hundreds of thousands of dollars to participate in the overseas summer employment programme and have not yet been placed.

The Sunday Gleaner has received reports from students who said they used any means, including high interest bearing loans, to pay to be part of the programme but are yet to get jobs.

According to Kerry Roberts*, ICP was one of many companies that came to her institution at the beginning of the first semester in the last academic year to showcase its services.

She signed up with the entity in late September and then took out a loan for US$1,200 (J$151,248) from one of the quick-cash facilities, which was paid over to ICP last December to cover the programme fee for the full placement.

"After the money was paid over ... all they kept saying was that we need to be patient and give them time so they can find the jobs," said Roberts.

"In March, I got very frustrated. I sent an email to them to find out what was going on. A few days after, a lady emailed me saying she had an interview lined up and overseas employers interested.

"I did the interview and for about two weeks I didn't know whether I got the job. I went down there and the receptionist checked on the system and told me I didn't get the job."

Roberts said she contacted a friend overseas to source a job for her, which they did. But when she went back to ICP in April, she was told there were no more DS2019 forms which she required to go off on the programme.


Taking legal action


The DS2019 form is the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status and is the basic document used in the administration of the exchange visitor programme.

"I am going to take out a summons for them because I won't be able to pay back that loan, and it has been a year and couple of months since I have signed up with that company," said Roberts.

She further charged that several other students have been left stranded; two of whom The Sunday Gleaner spoke to. The only deviation in their stories was that they have paid only the required minimum upfront of US$400 (J$50,416).

But ICP head Dr Grace Kelly said the problems that have affected the programme this year are not unique to her company or even to Jamaica.

"Whatever happens in the industry that has affected International Career Partners," said Kelly.

"The J-1 programme is regulated by the US State Department and so there were some changes at the different levels that were done, so people didn't get through for various reasons.

"An employment agency does not produce DS forms, it is produced through the government of the United States and they cut back on the number of forms that were issued for the entire world."

According to Kelly, all the students have the option of letting their money stay and being given first preference next year. But the students who spoke to The Sunday Gleaner said they wanted a 100 per cent refund, even though this is unlikely.

"They cannot get back the 100 per cent because we have extended ourselves and we have paid out the overhead," said Kelly.

"The bottom line is they have secured our services, we have done our due diligence and they have signed contracts before they engaged our services."

That position was endorsed by a senior official at the Ministry of Labour who, not being authorised to speak with the media, opted not to be named.


DS forms shortage


The labour ministry representative said with the students having signed the contracts which states in part: "if the participant does not receive a job offer or approval of a job offer ... such client is entitled to 75 per cent of the amount paid" their only option is to take the matter to court.

The Ministry of Labour source also confirmed that a shortage of DS forms has been a general complaint of local employment agencies.

"We understand (from the local agencies) that DS forms are sold to Jamaica at a premium rate. There are also other countries that the J-1 sponsors work along with and they can get more money for it," said the ministry source who asked not to be named.

"So students coming from places like China and the Ukraine, they pay bigger bucks. So we understand that they will just pull the DS2019 from under our people's feet and just turn to those countries where there is bigger money," added the source.

The California-based Cultural Homestay International (CHI), which is one of the sponsors of the employment programme, also told our news team that there is a shortage of DS forms and this would not be the fault of the local agencies. CHI, however, rejected the claim that preference was being given to students other countries.

"Every year, we have a certain number of DS forms, and if we already reach the number, we are not able to issue even a single DS forms after this limit," the CHI representative told The Sunday Gleaner.

* Name changed on request.