Ocean City Today

Hogan backs J-1 visas

Letter to Tillerson says student workers vital to resort businesses
By Katie Tabeling | Sep 14, 2017

(Sept. 15, 2017) Ocean City’s voice has been heard on the J-1 Visa Summer Work Exchange Program, as Gov. Larry Hogan this week officially joined the growing chorus of defenders of the program on the national level.

Gov. Larry Hogan wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defending the summer work and travel program on Tuesday, singling out Ocean City’s need for the foreign workers.

“Many small businesses in Maryland … Ocean City in particular, depends on these students to supplement its seasonal workforce during peak seasons,” Hogan wrote. “The community is also enriched by the diversity of the workforce, which adds tremendous economic and cultural value to the city.”

The J-1 visa program is one of several immigration initiatives targeted by the Trump Administration as a possibility for inclusion in President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order.

A recent study by the Eureka Firm showed that 69 percent of 460 employers surveyed would the loss of J-1 students would have a “big impact” on business. Roughly 29 percent of employers said it was likely they would have to lay off permanent staff after the season.

Advocates also say eliminating or scaling back the program would force Ocean City to a stand-still. There are roughly 4,000 J-1 visa students who work in the resort each summer and 12,000 seasonal openings a year.

“Several of my members wouldn’t be able to operate,” Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Executive Director Susan Jones said. “There’s jobs like housekeeping that won’t be filled, because we won’t have the staff. It’s not a position our high school and college students desire.”

Looking at the big picture, the J-1 visa program is estimated to contribute more than $500 million to America’s economy annually through program fees, travel, housing and entertainment. Hogan emphasized in his letter that the J-1 visa students also bring spending dollars to Maryland when they come for work.

“These J-1 workers not only work in local businesses, but also shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants and rent local accommodations, all of which contribute to the state’s economic growth,” Hogan wrote to Tillerson. “I urge you to continue this beneficial and successful cultural exchange program that supports … businesses across Maryland.”

The U.S. Senate also backed the summer work and travel program. On Sept. 7, the Appropriations Committee passed an amendment that mandates any altercations to the program must be transparent.

“We’re thrilled by this, because it means whatever changes have to be done in a regulatory process and time with a period for public input,” Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel said.

The amendment was attached to a $51.35 billion spending bill, and stipulates none of the monies be used to modify the J-1 visa program. The Trump Administration would have to work with the Appropriations Committee “regarding how any proposed modification would affect the public diplomacy goals of, and the estimated economic impact on, the United States.”

“The Senate Committee’s vote reflects deep bi-partisan support for these programs,” Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange Ilir Zherka said in a press statement. “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.”

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