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Press Release: J-1 Worker Brings Class Action Alleging Misuse of Internship Program by St. Regis Hotel in Aspen

Aspen, CO — On Friday, a former employee of the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen, Colorado brought a proposed class action alleging that the luxury hotel had manipulated the J-1 internship program to exploit him and dozens of other former interns. Daniel Esteban Camas López, represented by attorneys at Towards Justice, alleges that the hotel misrepresented the nature of promised internships to workers and the U.S. government in an effort to obtain an exploitable, low-wage labor force.

The J-1 visa internship program, instituted by the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, is intended to nurture mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations through educational and cultural exchanges. A crucial component of the program, as specified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 22 CFR § 62.22, is that the program must not be used as “substitutes for ordinary employment or work purposes” or to displace domestic workers.

Mr. Camas, an alumnus of the culinary arts from Universidad Autónoma de Queretaro in Mexico, secured internships in the U.S. to elevate his culinary arts career. In May 2021, he began a purported internship at the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen through his visa sponsor, Alliance Abroad Group, LP.

However, Mr. Camas alleges that, contrary to St. Regis’s promises to him and the U.S. government,  he was used for low-wage kitchen labor rather than receiving the promised internship following his predetermined training plan. The St. Regis allegedly also did not provide him with any of the purported cultural benefits of the program.

The alleged violations affected interns in a variety of positions across the hotel, including as culinary workers, servers, food runners, butlers, and room service.

Key allegations include:

  • Lack of promised rotations developing different culinary skills through different phases of training.
  • Lack of promised opportunities to work closely with and receive feedback from executive chef.
  • Lack of promised cultural experiences, such as opportunities to experience Aspen’s interesting history, outdoor recreation opportunities, and other local cultural activities.
  • Working extensive mandatory overtime contrary to the promise of 32-40 hour workweeks.

Said Towards Justice attorney Brianne Power, “Misuse of the J-1 visa internship program exploits workers and creates a windfall for employers. The program restricts the ability of participants to leave their jobs to seek out work that may pay them more or treat them better. And, unlike guest workers on temporary or seasonal visas like H-2B visas, whose travel and visa expenses are covered by their employers, participants in the J-1 visa program must pay costly fees for the promised cultural and educational opportunity.”

David Seligman, Towards Justice’s Executive Director added: “Increasingly, we’ve seen deep-pocketed corporate employers turn to J-1 workers to fill a purported labor shortage, especially in resort towns like Aspen. But in far too many cases, employers are misusing these visas not to provide genuinely cultural exchange for foreign workers, but as a device to import easily exploitable immigrants employed in low wage jobs. This scheme hurts J-1 workers and suppresses wages across the labor market.”

The State Department, overseeing the J-1 visa internship program, mandates that employers provide detailed Training/Internship Placement Plans detailing the specific objectives and means for the interns/trainees to achieve them. Mr. Camas’s allegations underscore the stark disparity between the promises made in St. Regis’s Training/Internship Placement Plans and workers’ actual experiences.

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