Ocean City Today

J1 visa legislation much too broad

Mar 22, 2018



printed 03/23/2018


Like many other programs, institutions and freedoms that have been restricted in recent years, the J1 Visa program, on which Ocean City-area employers depend to fill their summer worker needs, is in trouble because of the extreme viewpoints  of a few.

Unscrupulous operators elsewhere in the country and overseas apparently have taken advantage of unsuspecting youth in foreign countries to boost their own incomes or to save on labor costs. Now, legitimate recruiters and businesses, such as those here on the resort coast, could pay a shattering price.

It’s a classic example of the one rotten apple ruining the entire barrel, as the Maryland General Assembly considers legislation that could gut the travel/work exchange program in this state, even though it seems to have worked well here for many years.

If it hadn’t, Ocean City would not have seen as many student workers return for a second summer for the American experience and the opportunity, for some, to make more money in one season than their parents back home might make in a year. And that’s after they pay their fees to their recruiters.

In essence, the bills — one in the House of Delegates and one in the Senate — appear to shift the recruiting expense from the students to the employers by prohibiting J1 sponsor companies from collecting any fees from the students.

It’s a safe bet that foreign labor contractors, as the bills refer to them, will not be doing their jobs without being paid. That leaves employers.

So, some might argue, why shouldn’t employers pay? Because the unwillingness of American students to take the many available summer jobs here leaves businesses with no options besides foreign student workers, who would now come at a higher cost to employers and their customers.

The big failure of the legislation is that it goes after a few bad actors by penalizing every legitimate business that recruits or hires J1 students to their mutual benefit.

A more surgical approach is needed, one that doesn’t treat an area of infection by lopping off an entire limb.

These bills are too broad, don’t reflect local realities and either should be amended to protect decent businesses or voted down altogether.

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