Call To Action To Support Student Workers Planned After J-1 Program Elimination Talk

OCEAN CITY — If a core of senior White House advisors has its druthers, the vital J-1 student work and travel program that supplies thousands of seasonal workers to resort businesses could be eliminated as part of the Trump administration’s Buy American, Hire American executive order.

In April, Trump signed an executive order that would reduce the number of foreign workers in some sectors in the U.S. economy in the interest of protecting and preserving jobs for Americans. Left untouched in the initial executive order was the J-1 Visa summer work and travel program that supplies thousands of foreign student workers to seasonal businesses in the resort and is the backbone of the summer workforce.

However, according to a Wall Street Journal article published on Monday, a cadre of senior White House advisors is working to include the J-1 program in the president’s Buy American, Hire American (BAHA) executive order, effectively eliminating the program.

The article reports, “People familiar with the conversations said the review includes the summer work-travel program, which brings more than 100,000 students to the U.S. each summer, often stationed in tourist destinations such as beach resorts and national parks. It also includes the smaller au pair program, through which foreigners live in American homes and provide child care as well as take classes and participate in intercultural exchanges with their host families. Other programs under discussion include those for camp counselors, interns and trainees. … Options on the table include eliminating these visa classes, as well as imposing new requirements on participants. For instance, employers could be required to show that they couldn’t find Americans for these jobs, as is required for other visa programs, according to the people who are tracking the internal debate.”

The Wall Street Journal story touched off an immediate reaction from the resort’s business community including the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, which is putting together an action alert for its members urging them to contact their federal government representatives.

“We are aware of it and I am working on a call to action to our members from the chamber,” said Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel. “I have already contacted Congressman Andy Harris and Senator Ben Cardin, our federal representatives, and they are very supportive of this program and not changing it at all.”

Pursel said while the potential elimination of the J-1 Summer Work and Travel (SWT) program would be felt all over the country in communities that rely on seasonal workers, it would be particularly acute in Ocean City.

“This is of great concern to Ocean City,” she said. “We typically host about 4,000 students annually. These SWT participants are not taking American jobs. Our employers hire every single American who wants to work, but we just don’t have enough job seekers and workers to fulfill the need. Plus, these students truly have a cultural exchange experience that is critical for diplomacy efforts between the U.S. and their home countries.”

Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones agreed the potential elimination of the J-1 program could have serious repercussions in the resort area.

“This is unnerving and would really devastate our ability to fully function,” she said. “There are just not enough workers in our area to fill the immediate seasonal need.”

Eliminating the J-1 programs is ostensibly part of the broader effort to “protect the interests of U.S. workers” under the president’s Buy American, Hire American (BAHA) executive order signed by Trump in April. The initial executive order did not include the J-1 student work-travel programs, but according to the Wall Street Journal article published on Monday, a group of senior White House advisors are seeking to add the J-1 program to the list of programs eliminated under the BAHA executive order.

The Alliance for International Exchange released a statement shortly after the news broke on Monday about the possible elimination of the J-1 program.

“The notion that the J-1 programs undermine the president’s BAHA executive order is misguided and uninformed,” the statement reads. “In many cases, these exchange programs work to effectively supplement and expand the American workforce during peak seasons. With this additional temporary support, companies and other organizations can increase their services and their ability to grow their businesses.”

The Alliance for International Exchange statement questions the timing of the potential elimination of the J-1 program.

“It is unclear why, at a time of economic and diplomatic uncertainty, a small group of advisors in the White House are conspiring to eliminate programs that have long-term benefits to both our position in the world and our economy at home,” said Alliance for International Exchange Executive Director Ilir Zherka. “These programs have strong bipartisan support. Any change would be a setback to U.S. national security and diplomacy efforts, not to mention deal a devastating blow to seasonal communities that depend upon increased temporary employment to prosper.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.