Ocean City Today

J-1 conference reviews new efforts to boost road safety

Meeting sponsored by OC Chamber of Commerce at Carousel Resort Hotel
By Greg Ellison | Apr 26, 2018
Photo by: Greg Ellison Councilman Tony DeLuca discusses ongoing efforts to distribute and install bike lights at no cost during a J-1 workforce conference sponsored by the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce at the Carousel Resort Hotel on 118th Street last Thursday.

(April 27, 2018) Employers and rental property managers packed a J-1 workforce conference last Thursday for updates on enforcement priorities and challenges related to the thousands of foreign students who come to Ocean City each summer for seasonal jobs.

Mayor Rick Meehan opened the event, which was sponsored by the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Seasonal Workforce Committee and held at the Carousel Resort Hotel on 118th Street.

Meehan told the audience that housing resources continue to present challenges.

“We have to make sure they have the resources they need when they get here,” he said. “If it means we bring a few less people, maybe that’s better.”

With the scarcity of living quarters driving up prices, Meehan said summer workers sometimes opt to cram in extra bodies to cut costs.

“We also need to educate J-1’s regarding housing limits [because] some may violate housing codes,” he said.

Meehan also said student workers from nearly two-dozen countries have visited City Hall for a meet and greet.

“That’s not something they can do in their own countries to …. have a candid conversation with the mayor,” he said.

Councilman Tony DeLuca highlighted efforts to assure all J-1 workers have access to bike lights.

Last month, the Ocean City Police Department began distributing and installing free bike lights to all residents, and DeLuca said the fire department is also on board.

“We are giving out lights in all five fire stations,” he said. “You can go to a fire station and a fireman will put a light on for free.”

With roughly 2,000 lights on hand, DeLuca said approximately another thousand are still needed.

In addition to a $4,000 grant from the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association and the State Highway Administration have provided financial support, DeLuca said.

Ocean City will also install bike lights at the City Hall gazebo every Wednesday from 10 a.m. until noon from May 16 through June 27.

“We really don’t want to give away lights, we want to install them,” he said.

U.S. Department of State representative Jacqueline Chisolm presented national data and reviewed J-1 program benefits and concerns.

“The purpose is primarily cultural exchange,” she said. “The work component helps make this program affordable without taxpayer funding.”

Chisolm, who works in the Office of Private Sector Exchange as a summer work travel program analyst, said 4,146 foreign students were employed in Ocean City last year.

The largest number of foreign workers came from Romania, 21 percent, with Bulgaria next at 11 percent.

During 2017, Chisolm said of approximately 331,000 J-1 visa holders who visited the U.S. more than 104,000 were summer workers.

Melanie Pursel, chamber of commerce executive director, recapped a hectic General Assembly session, which included a proposal that would have severely restricted the J-1 program.

“Summer work travel could have been devastated,” she said.

Although the legislation was intended to target human trafficking, Pursel said the bill language included the J-1 program, which encompasses 14 categories other the summer work travel.

Pursel also talked about the recently approved Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, which was passed despite being vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan.

“It requires all employers to provide paid leave to, really, any employee,” she said. “J-1 … students have to be treated equal to their American counterparts.”

To further complicate matters, Pursel said the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation is still finalizing adherence guidelines.

Considering the stiff penalties for non-compliance, Pursel said larger businesses should consult with an attorney if concerns exist.

“It’s a reality and it’s the law in Maryland,” she said. “We will collect data this summer regarding employer impact.”

Ocean City Planning Director Bill Neville said overcrowding in residential units is his department’s primary worry. To address that, the city would continue to require all rental properties be licensed and inspected, he said.

OCPD Public Affairs Officer Lindsay Richard also reminded employers to encourage their people to follow the rules as pedestrians and cyclists, and added that students need to be cautious with currency.

In some cases, Richard said J-1 workers stow funds in not-so-secret stash spots all summer, only to discover it gone at season’s end.

“Their roommate left and their money left too,” she said.

Richard also cautioned against student workers of legal drinking age sharing identification with their underage cohorts.

“If a passport is confiscated it makes it very hard to get back home,” she said.

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