OC Student Workforce Conference Set For April 16

OCEAN CITY — With the onslaught of the latest batch of foreign summer workers near, an international student workforce conference is set for next week to outline everything from the complexities of the J-1 visa and potential impacts of the Affordable Health Care Act to the prevention of sunburns and the dangers of rip currents.

With the next few weeks, the first of thousands of international student workers will arrive in the resort for the summer season often ill-equipped for the dramatic employment and cultural differences they are about to experience. Often equally in the dark are their employers and landlords not entirely certain of the complexities of their visa requirements, pay scales, available training and working hours and living conditions.

To that end, the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and its Seasonal Workforce Committee next Tuesday are hosting a seminar to get employers and nearly everyone else who interacts with the international student workforce up to speed on changes to the laws and visa requirements related to what will ultimately make up the majority of the seasonal labor pool. Most of the international student workforce arrives in Ocean City and other locations around the country on a J-1 visa and the laws governing the requirements are somewhat of a moving target.

“The regulations are always changing and they’ve been tightened up again this year,” said Ocean City Chamber Executive Director Melanie Pursel this week. “There have been changes to the types of jobs they can take, the times they can work and the number of hours they can work. They also want to make sure their jobs include some interaction with other international students and American students because it’s really supposed to be a cultural experience.”

Tuesday’s international student workforce seminar will address those issue and many others related to the resorts seasonal workforce, attacking the issues from several angles. Seasonal workforce committee chairperson Carrie Linch will provide a summary of the committee’s progress and an outlook on the goals for 2013, while U.S. Department of State officials will outline many of the changes with the summer work-travel program for international students.

Phillip Cheung from Gregory and Associates will explain payroll issues from recent seasons and provide an overview of the payroll laws pertaining to overtime and a required training period as well as the hiring of foreign employees without a Social Security number. In addition, Chris Keen from Keen Insurance Associates will outline the potential impacts of international student workers on the Affordable Health Care Act for many seasonal businesses.

“That’s a very important issue for many businesses right now but it won’t impact most dramatically,” said Pursel. “Most of the international student employees will work 90 days or less and probably won’t be counted against the number of employees. It’s certainly an issue that bears close attention however.”

Beyond the issues specific to employment, the J-1 visas, pay scales and working hours, Tuesday’s seminar includes several speakers and presenters who will outline some of the social and legal issues that often snare international student workers, their employers and landlords. For example, the OCPD will present a video outlining safety issues for the seasonal workers including pedestrian laws, noise laws, open container laws and other safety issues.

“There really is so much more to this than just the employment issues,” said Pursel. “Almost all of the international student workers arrive here with the help of sponsors and they do a great job of indoctrinating and preparing them, but we hope this seminar will reinforce what the sponsors provide. It’s essentially for the business owners, but there is something to be gained in this for everybody.”

For example, Ocean City Building Inspector will provide an overview of the housing issues experienced in prior seasons and how the town has dealt with them and will also explain the rental housing codes in the resort and procedures regarding complaints. Ocean City’s Emergency Management Planner Bob Rhodes will also explain the town’s hurricane evacuation plan for J-1 students along with other information for international workers and their employers. Pursel said that issue came to the fore in August 2011 when thousands of international student workers were evacuated prior to the arrival of Hurricane Irene.

“The evacuation plan is very important,” said Pursel. “We had to pull the trigger on evacuating 3,500 kids out of Ocean City in a safe and orderly manner and our plan has become a model for other communities around the country that have a large, international seasonal workforce.”

The seminar is set for Tuesday, April 16 at the Clarion Resort Fontainebleu Hotel. Registration starts at 8:15 a.m. and the program will begin around 8:30 a.m. A continental breakfast and refreshments will be served at the break. For more information, contact the Chamber at 410-213-0144.