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New report confirms: Cultural exchange programmes boost US economy and diplomacy

A recent report on J1 Exchange Visitor Program confirms its many benefits including addressing labor shortages across the nation, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the U.S. economy, and advancing American diplomacy efforts.  Research firm, EurekaFacts, was commissioned by a coalition of organizations to refute allegations that J1 visa programs take jobs away from American workers and the program intent of cultural exchange is being undermined.

The report comes at a time when a White House interagency group, led by Steven Miller, is proposing that J1 visa programs, such as the Summer Work Travel (SWT), and others be eliminated to  “protect the interests of U.S. workers” under the Buy American, Hire American (BAHA) Executive Order, issued by President Trump last April.

man standing on sunny street

“The report is timely and the findings validate what we know from our many years as visa sponsors,” says Victoria Lynden, Founder of Alliance Abroad Group. The Austin, Texas based company is a Department of State designated sponsor of J1 visa programs. “We’ve been bringing exchange students to Austin and Galveston and other areas in Texas where employers face labor shortages for seasonal and summer positions with great success,” adds James Bell, the company’s president.  “Foreign students, wanting to come to the U.S. for the purposes of cultural exposure and education are ideal candidates for these jobs.”

Bell explains the jobs students take to defray program, travel and living costs provide communities and businesses with important resources and revenue. Without the help of these students, many seasonal, summer and hospitality businesses would be crippled, and operations and customer service would be greatly compromised. The EurekaFacts study substantiates the potential harmful impacts to businesses – particularly in the hospitality sector – if the program is eliminated.

In Texas alone, nearly 3000 SWT participants keep local hospitality-related businesses humming. In another finding, the report suggests that in university towns, like Austin, interest by college students in seasonal or summer jobs is slipping.  The decline in seasonal employment among U.S. youth is due to shifting priorities from work to school indicated by greater participation in summer time academic programs. In tourist areas, like Galveston, that attract summer fun seekers to water and theme parks, J1 students keep businesses operating, customers happy and provide the community with culturally-rich diversity and important sources of additional revenue.

Read how winning a working holiday visa to the USA was a life changing experience for a WYSTC 2016 volunteer

“Most compelling to me is the report validates the important purpose of the program is creating goodwill among global citizens and a more favorable impression of American business practices, people and culture,” say Bell.  “The students are not coming here to work; they are working to afford the opportunity to come to the United States, perfect their English, put their studies into practical application and to immerse themselves in a new culture.”

The report findings are conclusive that J1 participants are not replacing American workers, they are augmenting teams and helping businesses to operate at full capacity, enabling them to keep their full-time American workers employed.

“We’re rightly concerned about the future of this program and for the many employers who rely on SWT and other J1 programs in Austin and elsewhere,” says Bell.

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An overwhelming majority of SWT employers surveyed by the study reported labor shortages (96.8%). Over half (50.8%) reported a potential big negative impact on their revenue if they were not able to host SWT participants, and many also stated that this would have a negative impact on their ability to do business (87.4%). More specifically, employers expressed that if the SWT program was unavailable, they would likely or very likely need to reduce services provided (56.5% of businesses reported this outcome), would be required to reduce hours of operation (44.8%), or would have to lay off permanent staff after the season (28.7%).

“This is a disaster we can prevent from hitting Texas,” says Lynden.  “Businesses can’t staff seasonal businesses with local talent and we can’t wield American influence around the world by strong arm tactics,” adds Lynden.  “These programs create connections and friendships that are more powerful than any weapon and they are absolutely vital to American economy and security.”

“We all have to make our voices heard so that the ramifications to our companies, communities and country can be avoided,” cautions Bell.  Alliance Abroad is asking the Austin business community to rally to preserve the programs that promote prosperity, peace and greater opportunity in the United States and abroad.

Read more about what WYSE Travel Confederation and Confederation members are doing to support J-1 visa programmes and what you can do to help.

Source: Alliance Abroad press release September 2017