The JGM BitBlog: The Political Side of Foreign Worker and Expatriate Insulation

Journal of Global Mobility

Jason Ryan, California State University, San Bernardino, USA.
Sari Silvanto, California State University, Dominguez Hills, USA.


Do expatriates seclude themselves into insulated communities voluntarily or are they nudged in that direction by their host nation? Most studies examining the insulation of foreign workers and expatriates into secluded communities presume that they voluntarily isolate themselves into communities when working abroad. This perspective does not take into consideration host-country political imperatives that often pressure globally mobile workers into insulated communities composed of people similar to themselves. The insulation of globally mobile workers into communities is frequently influenced by political considerations within the host country.

To explore this question, this study examines guest workers in the J-1 Visa program in the United States. Due to the requirements of the program, J-1 recipients frequently end up living in insulated or secluded communities composed of others like themselves. The authors of the study spoke with five J-1 program administrators at sponsoring employers to understand what specific political pressures led to the insulation of J-1 foreign professionals and workers into insulated communities.

The J-1 visa program that has largely come into existence due to pressures from powerful sectors such as hospitality, higher education and healthcare to bring skilled workers from abroad. It allows approved organizations to host foreign skilled professionals and workers in a manner that does not require a work or immigration visa. In recent years, the United States Federal Government has created a range of work and exchange visas, such as the J-1, that place significant responsibilities on government-approved sponsoring employers to ensure that the visa recipients are supported and assisted in ways that allow them to live and work productively. The US Department of State (DOS) administers the J-1 Visa program, allowing skilled foreign workers and trainees hired by pre-approved sponsoring employers to enter the country to work for periods that vary in length to work in specific sectors, such as healthcare and education. The DOS’s involvement underscores the political nature of the J-1 visa program as it is administered by the same government body that is responsible for the United States’ foreign and diplomatic relations. The government-approved sponsoring employer is required to ensure that the visa recipient has passed a background check and is provided an orientation to the United States that includes obtaining insurance and housing. They are also responsible for ensuring compliance by the visa recipient with the program requirements. Many J-1 sponsoring employers, however, choose to provide housing themselves for J-1 recipients as this unambiguously fulfills their obligation to support and assist recipients while living in the United States. This obligation also frequently leads sponsoring employers to create insulated communities for the J-1 recipients.
This study found that political pressures do have an impact on the insulation of J-1 recipients into secluded communities in the United States. This is largely accomplished through the legal requirements of the program, pressure from sponsoring employers on the government and the significant political and economic ties that the United States maintains with the home countries of J-1 recipients.


To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication:
Ryan, J. and Silvanto, S. (2023), "An examination of the insulation of global worker communities for political reasons: the case of the J-1 Visa in the United States", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 62-74.