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How Disney Subverted Immigration Law for Fun and Profit!

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If you happened to miss the latest issue of the Florida Law Review (doubtful, I know -- but these things happen...) you may not have caught "The Wonderful World of Disney Visas" by Kit Johnson, a visiting professor at the University of North Dakota School of Law.

Writes Johnson:

International workers play an important role in perpetuating the carefully crafted fantasy that to visit the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida is to be transported to far-off destinations around the globe. This Article examines how Disney has filled its need for these workers in two ways. For one, Disney has used a blend of chutzpah and ingenuity to forge new federal law establishing the Q visa. Additionally, Disney has dexterously used the existing J visa, along with an on-resort academic program, to bring international workers to Florida as students.

An examination of Disney’s immigration practices offers insight into the larger questions of who designs and benefits from immigration laws. These questions are particularly worthy of attention given the current call for federal immigration reform.

I proceed by detailing the history of the Q visa law, which was designed by Disney for its own needs - namely, to authorize “cultural representatives” to travel to the United States for short durations and to work in jobs where they share aspects of their home countries with the American public. This present study is the first historical treatment of the Q visa in the literature. I then discuss what Disney has appropriated from its custom-designed immigration program. Next, I look at the J visa and how Disney has exploited it by analyzing the history of the J visa, which was created during the Cold War to cultivate an appreciation for and familiarity with American society. I then look at Disney’s International College Program, which is intended to provide compliance with the J visa law while ensuring a ready stream of available labor for Disney’s mammoth Florida resort operations. A thorough exploration of the facts shows that Disney’s International College Program is not consistent with the original statutory intent. Scrutiny of Disney’s Q and J visa programs highlights weaknesses in our current immigration system and illustrates how those flaws might affect future immigration reforms.

(The full text can be downloaded HERE, for free)

While the entire study is nothing short of fascinating, I was particularly interested in the following:

"A thorough exploration of the facts shows that Disney’s International College Program is not consistent with the original statutory intent."

What exactly is Disney's International College Program? And what makes it like -- or unlike, in this instance -- college?

The Disney International College Program website explains:

Participants of the Disney International College Program at the Walt Disney World® Resort near Orlando, FL, U.S.A. have the unique opportunity to develop real-world experience while working in front line roles at our Theme Parks and Resort Hotels. Additionally, they have the chance to meet Guests and other participants from around the world and take part in a life-changing opportunity that they just can't get anywhere else.

The Disney International College Programs is made up of two unique opportunities: the Summer Work Experience, and the Australia/New Zealand Work Experience. In addition, Disney hosts the Academic Exchange Experience. Participants in these experiences may have the opportunity to:
  • Learn important business philosophies from Disney leaders
  • Gain real-world experience working for a world-renowned entertainment company, valuable on any CV
  • Make friends from around the world while living in a comfortable community
  • Take advantage of exclusive Cast Offerings, Events and Activities
And that's just the beginning!

Although participants may not be pursuing a career in the hospitality or entertainment industries, they will have the opportunity to learn skills that will be valuable to them in their future endeavors. In their roles, Disney International Programs participants develop transferable skills including Guest service, effective communication, teamwork, leadership, and responsibility.

Wow -- participants get a chance to "learn important business philosophies from Disney leaders" and "gain real-world experience working for a world-renowned entertainment company?" Tell me more!

According to Disney's "Role Descriptions" (remember, these aren't jobs -- they're "roles"), real-world experience means "jobs adults living in the real world don't actually want and are more than happy to let a foreign-exchange student have them":

Quick-Service Restaurant Host/Hostess

Discover the high-energy possibilities! With more than 250 restaurants, quick-service counters and outdoor food locations, we serve a lot of Guests. Participants could be responsible for filling orders at a counter-service restaurant or food cart, operating a computerized cash register, cash handling, cleaning tables and filling the stock. Depending upon the participant's program, they may be required to work in the kitchen, which includes cooking and assembling food items, as well as extensive cleaning of kitchen equipment.

Merchandise Host/Hostess

Smile, all eyes are on you! Participants could be greeting Guests, actively using "Merchantainment" techniques when serving Guests, performing sales transactions on a computerized cash register, cash handling, stocking shelves and keeping the shop clean.


What a ride! Participants could be greeting Guests and answering questions, assisting Guests in entering and leaving attractions, monitoring Guest safety at all times, performing a memorized spiel using a microphone, sweeping and maintaining the cleanliness of the attraction, assisting with audience control during parades, working turnstiles, selling tickets and other special activities.

Custodial Host/Hostess

Keep it neat and tidy! The Walt Disney World® Resort is known for its world-class cleanliness, and participants could be responsible for making this happen. Participants could be greeting Guests and answering questions, cleaning tables, emptying trash cans, cleaning restrooms and sweeping outdoor areas.

Quick-Service Kitchen Only

Now you're cooking! Participants could be responsible for operating basic kitchen equipment, preparing food, cooking and assembling food items, understanding recipes and extensive cleaning of kitchen equipment.


Make a real splash! Participants could be guarding heavily occupied water areas under various conditions (surf waves, bobbing waves, etc.), monitoring Guests' safety in water, providing first aid and basic life support during Guest illness/injury and keeping pool areas clean. A swim test will be administered during the arrival week that evaluates a participant's ability to complete a 200-yard (183 m) swim in a reasonable amount of time, tread water for two minutes using your legs only and swim 15 yards (13.7 m) underwater to recover a 10-pound (4.5 kg) brick.

Full-Service Food and Beverage Host/Hostess

This role involves prolonged standing and walking. Responsibilities may include greeting and seating Guests, cash handling, rolling silverware, folding napkins and keeping the work area clean and stocked. Full-Service Food and Beverage Host/Hostess is a non-tipped role.

"Emptying trash cans."

"Cleaning rest rooms."

"Extensive cleaning of kitchen equipment."

Or, you might be lucky enough to land a gig working as a Full-Service Food and Beverage Host/Hostess in a "non-tipped role."

However laborious the actual work might be, at least the foreign students get to hit the books during their downtime.



When "students" aren't learning how to mop floors under the tutelage of "experienced Disney professionals," they can take advantage of  "valuable resources at the Cast Service Centers or Disney Learning Centers."

This includes the opportunity to take part in such rigorous academic pursuits as...checking out library books:

Library Services

Cast Members may check out resources in various formats including books, audiotapes, videotapes and compact discs. These resources enhance their personal and professional development and complement their working and living experiences.

F--king around on the Internet:

Computer-Based Learning

Walt Disney World Cast Members have the opportunity to improve their computer skills at the Cast Service Centers or Disney Learning Center. Computer tutorials cover topics such as Microsoft Word and Excel, Front Page and Outlook. In addition to computer programs, participants may select tutorials that cover languages, marketing, accounting and finance. Also, Cast Members may use computers at these centers for Internet research.

Brief lectures from middle management:

Learning Activities

All Walt Disney World Cast Members are invited to attend learning activities offered through the Cast Service Centers or the Disney Learning Center. Learning Activities are sixty to ninety-minute sessions that cover a variety of topics. These activities are free of charge to Cast Members. Participants may have the opportunity to listen to a Disney executive discuss his or her career path or investigate the possibility of a career with Walt Disney World Entertainment, Finance, Marketing or another department. A representative from Walt Disney World Casting may offer résumé and interviewing advice. The possibilities are endless, and a new calendar of activities is published each month.

And a nebulous something-or-other that might involve somebody giving your resume a quick once-over:

Career Resources

Cast Service Centers and the Disney Learning Center has a vast collection of resources that help our Cast Members focus on preparing for a job search, including tutorials on creating a résumé/CV, sharpening interviewing skills, and more. Many of these resources are mentioned above.

As "international workers" will "most likely work 40-45 hours per week" but "more during peak and holiday seasons," there probably won't be much time to, as Disney says, "benefit from all of the components of the program, including the education and living experiences."

But, no matter -- you'll be providing a company with revenues of $38.1 billion in 2010 with minimum wage labor under the guise of "education."

And best of all? Since international students employees are exempt from FICA taxes, Disney's "savings from using Q visa workers would be $343,520 per week and $17,863,040 per year in 2011 dollars."

Something to ask yourself when considering the price of a ticket to Disney World just went up to $85.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.