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Foreign exchange student says he paid $4,000 to work at McDonald's


A sign stands outside of a McDonald's restaurant on Feb. 9, 2009, in San Francisco, Calif. A student from Argentina who came to the US to do a work-study program in December 2012, says he was "exploited" and forced to work unreasonable hours at a McDonald's restaurant in Harrisburg, Pa.


Justin Sullivan

A student from Argentina who came to the United States to do a work-study program says he was "exploited" and forced to work unreasonable hours.

Jorge Rios traveled to Harrisburg, Pa. in December as part of a US State Department program, he said in an open letter to McDonald's CEO Don Thompson.

Rios said he and other students paid between $3,000 and $4,000 for the cost of visas and travel. 

"We had terrible working and housing conditions," Rios said in the petition asking McDonald's to give back money the students are allegedly owed. "We faced threats, stolen wages, and grease burns up and down our arms ... we were only used to enrich our employer." 

Rios said he expected to work 40 hours a week, but sometimes was given as little as four hours. He says he was supposed to be on-call with 30 minutes notice all day and night. 

"If we ever answered that we couldn't work a shift — if someone was sick or exhausted when they got a call at 4 in the morning — the managers retaliated by giving us even fewer hours," Rios said. 

The living conditions were allegedly bad, too. 

"Our employer charged us $300 each per month to live in basement apartments he owned," Rios writes. "As many as eight of us lived in a single basement, we slept on bunk beds made for children that shook and squeaked." 

Rios is asking McDonald's to "pay us students back all the money we are owed, including the money we spent to come work for the company, unpaid overtime, and housing overcharges." 

In a statement to ABC News, McDonald's said that it was investigating the claims. 

“We take the well-being of the employees working in McDonald’s restaurants seriously. We are working closely with the franchisee to investigate the claims surrounding his program,” the statement reads.

The franchise owner didn't respond to ABC News' request for comment.

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