Ocean City Today

Resort businesses protest Trump foreign worker policy

By Katie Tabeling | Dec 28, 2017

(Dec. 29, 2017) Ocean City’s business community campaigned to preserve the J-1 Visa Summer Work Exchange Program, after the Trump Administration looked to eliminate foreign work programs earlier this year.

In late August, national publications reported that a core group of White House advisors sought to include the J-1 visa program in the president’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order.

The executive order is designed to reduce the number of foreign workers in the U.S. workforce to protect jobs for Americans. The J-1 visa program was originally left alone when President Trump signed the order in April, but White House staffers proposed reducing the program or eliminating altogether.

Ocean City would be hit hard by the change, as the program brought roughly 4,000 J-1 visa students to the resort last summer. There are 12,000 seasonal openings a year.

A study from the Eureka Firm showed that that 69 percent of 460 employers surveyed said 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.

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.

The Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association and the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce sprung into action immediately after the news broke. Both organizations rallied its members, and asked them to write letters emphasizing the program’s importance.

“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.”

By September, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) publically defended the summer work and travel program in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. It was one of the few times Hogan broke his typical silence on the Trump Administration.

“Many small businesses in Maryland … Ocean City in particular, depends on these students to supplement its seasonal workforce during peak seasons,” Hogan wrote on Sept. 12. “The community is also enriched by the diversity of the workforce, which adds tremendous economic and cultural value to the city.”

The U.S. Senate also backed the J-1 visa program, as the Appropriations Committee passed an amendment that mandates any alterations to the program must be transparent.

The amendment was attached to a $51.35 billion spending bill, and stipulates none of the moneys be used to modify the J-1 visa program. That forces the Trump Administration 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.”


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