The State Department is acknowledging that one of it's most popular student exchange programs has often left participants vulnerable to abuse -- and now it is trying to do something about it.

The department is pushing for new regulation to try and help foreign college students living and working in U.S. The revised rules aim to shift more responsibility onto the 53 entities the department designates official sponsors in the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program.

Historically, many sponsors have farmed out those duties to third-party contractors, making the sponsors "mere purveyors of J-1 visas," according to the State Department's proposed new rules published this spring in the Federal Register.

Federal auditors have criticized the department for years for depending on sponsors, some of whom make millions of dollars off J-1 students, to oversee the program and investigate complaints. 

Yet the new regulations would require little or no direct oversight by State Department employees, leaving sponsors free to continue policing themselves and their partners.

The changes are to take effect July 15, too late for thousands of students already in the country for another season of cleaning hotel rooms, waiting tables and working checkout counters.

Students visiting under J-1 visas make ideal victims since they are here temporarily and may not know how to seek help.

Some had to share beds in crowded houses or apartments, charged so much for lodging and transportation that they took home no pay. Others turned to the sex industry, while some sought help from homeless shelters.

The J-1 visa program allows foreign college students to live and work in the United States for four months. It brought more than 130,000 men and women to the United States last year alone.

The State Department is accepting public comments on the proposed rule changes through June 27. 

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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