Foreign students stuck in States without jobs

Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2003

NORTH BEND, Wash. (AP) -- Ligia Faria came to this town at the edge of the Cascades from Santo Andre, Brazil, last month, hoping to spend the winter in affordable lodging while working at a ski resort.

But after just five days at The Summit at Snoqualmie resort, she was laid off -- as were seven other students from Brazil and Peru.

The reason? Business was slow at The Summit due to a lack of snow.

Faria, 20, is one of 30 students who paid $3,000 to $4,000 each to a San Francisco company called Intrax for airfare, work visas, program fees and taxes to work at the Snoqualmie Pass ski resort. Intrax is one of 34 companies in the U.S. State Department's work-and-travel program that coordinate with foreign recruiters.

In exchange for their money, the students were given written agreements that promised them four months of at least 30 hours of work per week at $6.72 an hour at the ski resort and ''premium placement'' to include two-bedroom units with kitchenettes at $100 weekly rent, access to transportation and employee meals at 50 percent off.

Nine students got jobs and the promised housing shortly after they arrived. Eight were let go, and about a dozen had their hours cut drastically.

''I don't understand,'' Faria told The Seattle Times. ''I need to work. I paid for this.''

Erik Lacy, Intrax's Western regional manager, said he feels bad about the weather situation, but added, ''No job is ever absolutely guaranteed.''

Things got off to a bad start when the students arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at midnight Dec. 12 and did not find the promised transportation. They got together and took a bus to Seattle and then to North Bend.

Their sponsor directed them to ''their accommodations'' at the Sunset Motel. Four students were placed in each small, two-bed room.

''They expected them to sleep in beds together, and they didn't even know each other,'' said Larry McNaught of North Bend, who met the students at a local church and now has five living at his home. ''They were left in a place where they didn't know anyone. They had little money and immediate needs and concerns.''

Lacy said these situations are rare. He suggested the students in North Bend ''network and move forward.''

McNaught and others are helping them do that. Eleven moved into a studio apartment above a bar. Another group moved into another North Bend apartment.

The laid-off students are now trying to find work. They have visas until March and hope they can find jobs and stay.

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