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Reactions to the J-1 visa suspension by members of the youth travel industry

Jun 25, 2020

 

For the past decade, the number of exchange visitors admitted to the United States annually has been approximately 500,000. Currently, J-1 exchange visitors come from more than 200 countries and territories; 86 percent are younger than 30, and 53 percent are female.
Following the Presidential Proclamation on Immigration on 22 June 2020, the issuance of the J-1 Visa has been suspended until the end of the year. WYSE Travel Confederation spoke to members of the cultural exchange sector to understand how the Proclamation will affect sponsors, agents and young travellers alike over the coming months. 

 

 

“June 22nd was a very sad day for the J-1 Cultural Exchange Community.
Every year, our community brings in over 300,000 international high school students, college students, and young adults to the United States to take part in the J-1 cultural exchange programs governed by the U.S. Department of State. Having our programs temporarily suspended by Trump’s Executive Proclamation is nothing short of devastating for the hundreds of thousands of young adults who were waiting to embark on their life changing experiences. Knowing that strength lies in numbers, it is incumbent upon us to collectively engage with Congressional offices to emphasize the importance of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program for the U.S. economy and public diplomacy.
I have no doubts that the exchange community will continue to defend and support exchange programs and given the breadth of the proclamation and how many categories are included, it will likely face substantial and immediate legal challenges.
Now more than ever, it is critical that we all work together to protect these extremely important programs. The Cultural Exchange Panel and WYSE Travel Confederation are committed to supporting our members however we can through these challenging times. We thank you for your continued partnership in this effort and ensuring our voices are heard. Please do not hesitate to reach out should you need our support as you navigate through these challenging times.”

Carye Duffin, Vice President, External Relations, CIEE
Chair of the WYSE Travel Confederation Cultural Exchange Sector Panel

“June 22nd was a very sad day for the J-1 Cultural Exchange Community.
Every year, our community brings in over 300,000 international high school students, college students, and young adults to the United States to take part in the J-1 cultural exchange programs governed by the U.S. Department of State. Having our programs temporarily suspended by Trump’s Executive Proclamation is nothing short of devastating for the hundreds of thousands of young adults who were waiting to embark on their life changing experiences. Knowing that strength lies in numbers, it is incumbent upon us to collectively engage with Congressional offices to emphasize the importance of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program for the U.S. economy and public diplomacy.
I have no doubts that the exchange community will continue to defend and support exchange programs and given the breadth of the proclamation and how many categories are included, it will likely face substantial and immediate legal challenges.
Now more than ever, it is critical that we all work together to protect these extremely important programs. The Cultural Exchange Panel and WYSE Travel Confederation are committed to supporting our members however we can through these challenging times. We thank you for your continued partnership in this effort and ensuring our voices are heard. Please do not hesitate to reach out should you need our support as you navigate through these challenging times.”

Carye Duffin, Vice President, External Relations, CIEE
Chair of the WYSE Travel Confederation Cultural Exchange Sector Panel

“The Alliance for International Exchange opposes the inclusion of the J-1 Exchange Visitor programs in the recent Presidential proclamation regarding immigration. These international exchange programs help American families, while enabling American host businesses to remain open year-round. They do not displace American workers, and, in fact, contribute more than $1.2 billion to the United States economy. These important cultural exchange programs have strong, bipartisan support. The Alliance will continue working to protect these critical programs.”

Ilir Zherka, Executive Director, The Alliance for International Exchange

 

“The Alliance for International Exchange opposes the inclusion of the J-1 Exchange Visitor programs in the recent Presidential proclamation regarding immigration. These international exchange programs help American families, while enabling American host businesses to remain open year-round. They do not displace American workers, and, in fact, contribute more than $1.2 billion to the United States economy. These important cultural exchange programs have strong, bipartisan support. The Alliance will continue working to protect these critical programs.”

Ilir Zherka, Executive Director, The Alliance for International Exchange

 

“BUNAC was originally established in 1962 by university students, with the simple vision of facilitating cultural exchange and furthering transatlantic understanding between the UK and the US.
Whilst this vision has expanded to include other countries in recent years, the US J-1 programmes and the culturally rich experiences they provide young people, have been integral to our organisation for nearly 6 decades. We’re deeply concerned about the future of these life-changing programmes.
There’s never been a more crucial time to safeguard experiences that bring our world closer together and encourage cultural understanding and tolerance.
We remain positive about the advocacy efforts being launched by many of the sponsor organisations and businesses in the US and hopeful the positive steps being taken to ensuring these important cultural exchange and public diplomacy programmes continue.”

Vicki Cunningham, Group Director, Work Abroad, STA Travel
Member at Large, WYSE Travel Confederation Management Board

 

“BUNAC was originally established in 1962 by university students, with the simple vision of facilitating cultural exchange and furthering transatlantic understanding between the UK and the US.
Whilst this vision has expanded to include other countries in recent years, the US J-1 programmes and the culturally rich experiences they provide young people, have been integral to our organisation for nearly 6 decades. We’re deeply concerned about the future of these life-changing programmes.
There’s never been a more crucial time to safeguard experiences that bring our world closer together and encourage cultural understanding and tolerance.
We remain positive about the advocacy efforts being launched by many of the sponsor organisations and businesses in the US and hopeful the positive steps being taken to ensuring these important cultural exchange and public diplomacy programmes continue.”

Vicki Cunningham, Group Director, Work Abroad, STA Travel
Member at Large, WYSE Travel Confederation Management Board

 

“Not many things are as eye-opening as an experience spent away from home, in a radically different context that tests your limits and makes you think differently. That’s why we consider the Work and Travel Program a genuine life-changing experience for youth. Our commitment at American Experience is to support this program for the future, even if the new Presidential Proclamation puts an unprecedented pause on the issuance of the J-1 Visa, and we will encourage all parties involved (students, employers, sponsors, agencies, embassies, landlords, community groups etc.) to take the necessary steps to have the Work and Travel Program back on track as soon as possible.
Keep following your dreams! Keep Work and Travel alive!”

Alex Mitroi, Operations Director, American Experience

“Not many things are as eye-opening as an experience spent away from home, in a radically different context that tests your limits and makes you think differently. That’s why we consider the Work and Travel Program a genuine life-changing experience for youth. Our commitment at American Experience is to support this program for the future, even if the new Presidential Proclamation puts an unprecedented pause on the issuance of the J-1 Visa, and we will encourage all parties involved (students, employers, sponsors, agencies, embassies, landlords, community groups etc.) to take the necessary steps to have the Work and Travel Program back on track as soon as possible.
Keep following your dreams! Keep Work and Travel alive!”

Alex Mitroi, Operations Director, American Experience

“Cultural exchange and travel programs are very powerful tools, not just to educate individuals about diversity, mutual respect and the importance of dialogue, but they remove and declassify preconceptions about people, religions, ethnicities and ideologies. The most recent events, sparked in the US, which very clearly and importantly have been echoed in many other countries around the world, do confirm our belief that there is a need for our programs in the present and future.
The decision by the US government to temporarily suspend several programs within the cultural exchange (J-1) category is most definitely the wrong step in current times. Whilst there is no doubt that the current COVID-19 crisis is having a devastating impact on the US economy and society as a whole, this step is misguided. As demonstrated by research, it has been proven that cultural exchange visitors do not displace American workers, but in fact positively contribute to the US economy.
The decision is a very blunt attack to gain PR during an election year and its impacts have not been properly considered. We will take action together with others in the cultural exchange community to have our voices heard and aim to have this decision reversed.”

Bastian Weinberger, CEO Smaller Earth UK
Member of the WYSE Travel Confederation Cultural Exchange Sector Panel

 

“Cultural exchange and travel programs are very powerful tools, not just to educate individuals about diversity, mutual respect and the importance of dialogue, but they remove and declassify preconceptions about people, religions, ethnicities and ideologies. The most recent events, sparked in the US, which very clearly and importantly have been echoed in many other countries around the world, do confirm our belief that there is a need for our programs in the present and future.
The decision by the US government to temporarily suspend several programs within the cultural exchange (J-1) category is most definitely the wrong step in current times. Whilst there is no doubt that the current COVID-19 crisis is having a devastating impact on the US economy and society as a whole, this step is misguided. As demonstrated by research, it has been proven that cultural exchange visitors do not displace American workers, but in fact positively contribute to the US economy.
The decision is a very blunt attack to gain PR during an election year and its impacts have not been properly considered. We will take action together with others in the cultural exchange community to have our voices heard and aim to have this decision reversed.”

Bastian Weinberger, CEO Smaller Earth UK
Member of the WYSE Travel Confederation Cultural Exchange Sector Panel

 

“The White House proclamation of June 22 takes a bad situation and makes it worse.
The American circumstances of the pandemic – a virus that’s still spreading rapidly, and U.S. embassies not yet issuing visas — ensure that inbound exchanges this summer will be minimal. No government action is required to keep program numbers down this season.
But by prohibiting some J-1 visa programs until (at least) the end of the year, the White House enhances the pandemic’s damage by unnecessarily pushing that damage forward, rather than maintaining the flexibility to calibrate policy based on evolving circumstances.  The damage the coronavirus has inflicted on our field — many lost jobs, shuttered U.S. consulates, and, surely, some worthy organizations that will not survive —  needs no enhancement.
Nongovernmental exchange organizations provide capacity for many more exchanges than governments alone could manage.  They provide a range of program options and a sense of authenticity that governments alone could not. 
Simply put, the nongovernmental infrastructure of exchange that WYSE members comprise is an irreplaceable element of global diplomacy.
Its health and survival deserve more attention. 
Through both the Alliance for International Exchange and other avenues, these arguments will continue to be made forcefully to the U.S. government by sponsors, host employers, and community groups.   
Let’s hope we have an impact.”

Michael McCarry
Former Executive Director, Alliance for International Exchange

“The White House proclamation of June 22 takes a bad situation and makes it worse.
The American circumstances of the pandemic – a virus that’s still spreading rapidly, and U.S. embassies not yet issuing visas — ensure that inbound exchanges this summer will be minimal. No government action is required to keep program numbers down this season.
But by prohibiting some J-1 visa programs until (at least) the end of the year, the White House enhances the pandemic’s damage by unnecessarily pushing that damage forward, rather than maintaining the flexibility to calibrate policy based on evolving circumstances.  The damage the coronavirus has inflicted on our field — many lost jobs, shuttered U.S. consulates, and, surely, some worthy organizations that will not survive —  needs no enhancement.
Nongovernmental exchange organizations provide capacity for many more exchanges than governments alone could manage.  They provide a range of program options and a sense of authenticity that governments alone could not. 
Simply put, the nongovernmental infrastructure of exchange that WYSE members comprise is an irreplaceable element of global diplomacy.
Its health and survival deserve more attention. 
Through both the Alliance for International Exchange and other avenues, these arguments will continue to be made forcefully to the U.S. government by sponsors, host employers, and community groups.   
Let’s hope we have an impact.”

Michael McCarry
Former Executive Director, Alliance for International Exchange