OCEAN CITY — While snow fell on Ocean City this week and spring seems as far away as ever, efforts were already underway in places like Moldova and Poland to fill out the resort’s summer workforce with international students from around the globe.
Each year, several hundred J-1 visa-carrying international university students arrive in Ocean City for up to four months to work and play and enjoy all the resort has to offer. They come from all over the world and make up a significant part of the resort’s summer workforce. Under the J-1 summer work and travel program, university students from outside the U.S. can enter the country and work for a period of up to four months. The visa also allows for a 30-day travel period before the students return to their native countries to begin their next semester.
While the concept seems simple on the surface, recruiting the student workers, getting their visas and paperwork in order, and finding them places to live and work in Ocean City is a complicated process. Private companies, such as United Work and Travel, for example, find the students and make arrangements for them to live in work in Ocean City. It’s a process that begins almost as soon as the last batch of international students from last year has returned home.
United Work and Travel’s Annemarie Conestabile, a resort-area resident who has helped host thousands of international students in Ocean City over the years, is currently on a recruiting trip in Eastern Europe. She is part advocate, part recruiter, and part den mother for many of the students. It’s a labor of love she has gladly undertaken for over a decade.
“It is now part of my life and who I have become over the past 15 years,” she said. “These students are my children, and we look after them 24 hours a day, seven days a week when they are in Ocean City.”
This week, Conestabile, representing United Work and Travel (UWT) and its parent company APEI, along with representatives from resort area businesses including Seacrets, Rope Walk and Sunset Grille, for example, continued their recruiting junket in Eastern Europe. On Tuesday, Conestabile presided over a job fair in Moldova during which 105 summer workers were recruited. By Thursday, she was in Poland doing the same thing with other stops on the tour to include Bulgaria and Moldova.
United Work and Travel will host roughly 1,000 international student workers in Ocean City this summer and filling out the ranks is a full-time job. Earlier this year, Conestabile and her UWT colleagues completed similar trips to China and Thailand, and Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
Finding the students, making sure their visas are in order and most importantly lining up jobs for them when they arrive in the resort is part of the battle. Conestabile said this week many of the international students return each year as long as they are eligible, and many resort businesses are happy to welcome the hard-working students.
“Our partner employers take such wonderful care of the students that many of them return year after year until they are no long eligible university students,” she said. “This program is a true cultural exchange experience for all parties involved.”
Another significant challenge for UWT and other agencies that recruit and host the foreign student workers is finding safe, clean, affordable housing in the resort. Again, many Ocean City property owners welcome the international students each year and treat them as if they are their own, but there are sometimes abuses.
“Housing is the most difficult challenge in Ocean City,” she said. “Being a seasonal resort town, finding quality, affordable housing can be challenging. Luckily, we have many wonderful landlords who truly support this program, but we are always looking for additional housing options. The safety and welfare of all participants is our priority.”