OC’s Illegal Hiring Now An Epidemic

OCEAN CITY—Some local
businesses are hiring foreign workers who are not lawfully allowed to work in
Ocean City, and those businesses may not even know it.

Foreign students and
workers have been a part of the Ocean City workforce for decades, but resort
businesses might not realize that they are technically breaking the law by
hiring foreign workers who hold F-1 visas.

“It’s becoming a big
problem and growing towards being an epidemic,” said Anne Marie Conestabile,
director of the International Student Outreach Program in Ocean City. “There
are so many foreign kids who have J-1 visas that are coming into my office
crying because they can’t find jobs or the jobs that they were promised aren’t
there because they’ve been taken by people with the F-1 visas who shouldn’t
even be allowed to work in the United States.”

An F-1 visa is granted
to an international student who is enrolled in U.S. universities and is in this
country for academic purposes only.

Prior to being granted
the visa, the students must prove that they will be able to afford the costs of
school and the living expenses prior to them entering the country. Although F-1
visa students are allowed to work on their college campuses, they are prohibited
from working outside their college campus, thus making them unlawful from
holding a job in Ocean City, according to the law.

“In almost all cases,
the students who have F-1 visas are the kids from Nepal, who finish their
semesters at their universities and arrive here weeks before the kids coming
from other countries and who have the proper J-1 work visas and take a lot of
the jobs away,” said Conestabile. “I don’t think employers realize the
difference between the two visas and I think as the summer approaches, they are
just looking for a warm body to do those jobs.”
A J-1 visa is essentially a work/travel exchange program that is operated by
the U.S. Department of State and allows students from foreign countries to work
in Ocean City for up to four months and gives them a 30-day grace period for
travel at the end of their time in America. Sponsorship companies help to place
the J-1 students in apartments and jobs when they arrive in Ocean City, and,
according to Conestabile, the students are paying between $1,300 and $2,000 for
the sponsorship, as well as all their airfare and travel costs just to get

“We work hard to make
sure that these kids all get a job, a clean place to live and a bed to sleep
in,” said Conestabile. “I travel all over the world and believe me, there is a
huge interest in Ocean City as they literally applaud when I bring it up as a
place to work for the summer. But, if they hear horror stories about no jobs or
poor living conditions, they just will stop coming here and go somewhere else.”

Melanie Pursel,
executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, said she is working
hard to educate local businesses that they need to check foreign students’ visa
credentials before they hire them.

“It is a concern because
there just aren’t as many jobs to go around like there used to be,” said
Pursel. “The foreign kids used to get the first job to cover their costs to
come over here and then get a second or even a third job to make money to leave
here with. Over the past few years, fewer students are coming here because they
can’t find those additional jobs to make it work for them.”

Historically speaking,
there used to be a huge influx of Irish students with J-1 visas who worked in
Ocean City in the summer months, and over the past few years, more and more
students from Eastern Europe and other parts of the globe are finding their way
to the resort.

The numbers of Nepalese
students who work in Ocean City in the summer months has continued to grow, but
some indicate that the majority of the Nepalese students are the ones holding
F-1 visas.

“The only way that this
is going to change and ensure that the students who are here lawfully to work
in Ocean City is if someone gets fined for hiring F-1 visa holders and this is
exposed,” said Conestabile. “Hiring an F-1 visa holder is a violation of the
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Law and is subject to a fine.”

Bill Ferguson, who spent
the last decade as an advocate for the Irish students who came to Ocean City
and recently retired as the head of the Irish Student Outreach Committee, said
that living conditions have improved over the years for the foreign students,
who have been victims of price gouging and deplorable living conditions in the

“I started helping the
Irish kids out through my church because we felt that someone needed to watch
out for these 700 or 800 kids who were coming here each summer,” said Ferguson.
“The living conditions have improved, but it’s more expensive now, although
there are still slumlords out there and we try to steer the kids clear of them.
It seems to bother us more than the students though. They don’t seem to care if
there are 12 kids living in a small three-bedroom apartment at $1,200 or more
per person. They just want the opportunity of being in America for the summer.”

The main concern with
decreasing numbers of foreign workers was presumed to be based on only the
economy, but as last March’s Ocean City job fair showed, there was a lot more
people vying to be part of the Ocean City seasonal workforce

“We had over 5,000
people show up for the job fair,” said Mayor Rick Meehan, “and that means that
there are more than enough J-1 visa students and American workers to fill the
jobs that are needed in Ocean City, so I hope that local businesses remain cognizant
of which visas are lawful and which aren’t.”
Conestabile contests that foreign workers have always been a vital part of the
seasonal workforce in Ocean City, as they oftentimes do the minimum wage paying
jobs that American kids do not want to do.

“This town couldn’t run
without the foreign kids in the summer,” said Conestabile. “The American kids
don’t want to change bed sheets in hotels or work in the comfort station
bathrooms or at the amusement rides. The foreign kids just want to be here, and
every year they come here with hearts full of hope and ready to work hard. So,
I just want to make sure the people that should have jobs are the ones getting
the jobs.”