Saturday, July 29, 2017

International Students Help Boost Local Economy

Camille Sailer,

Image from article, with caption: From left, Akeem Scott, of the United States, Lauren Edger, of the United States, Mauricio Castillo, of Ecuador, Vita Huang, of Taiwan, and Jiri Stempin, of the Czech Republic.

COURT HOUSE – It’s that time of year when county residents and visitors begin to take note of young people with foreign accents and appearances in shops, restaurants and amusement parks and throughout retail establishments.

Those young people are part of an annual program sponsored by the federal-level Department of State as a form of public diplomacy informally known as the J-1 program after the type of visa participants receive.

The Program

The J-1 program as described on the department's website “provides countless opportunities for international candidates looking to travel and gain experience in the United States.

"The multifaceted programs enable foreign nationals to come to the U.S. to teach, study, conduct research, demonstrate special skills or receive on-the-job training for periods ranging from a few weeks to several years.”

Thus, the J-1 program is different from work visas administered by the federal Department of Labor which is designed to fill jobs that have a dearth of suitable potential employees.

For summer work-travel students, employers need to provide suitable training for the students as well as cultural activities such as a day trip to New York City or an outing to a Phillies game.

Needed Helpers

“Our county is such a tourism-driven economy without this summer work travel program our businesses would not be able to stay open. When the busy season starts around Easter our teachers and students, who also work during the summer, are still in school. When the high point of the summer season hits around August, many of our students need to return to school or sports camps. And in between, residents have family, club and other obligations that mean they cannot work as steadily as these foreign students can,” explained Vicki Clark, president of the county’s Chamber of Commerce.

“They actually keep our business wheels turning during the summer and allow us to have schools, the hospital, and other employment opportunities stay open all year round.

"The J-1 program is actually supplemental to local businesses hiring local residents; there simply wouldn’t be enough individuals who live here locally to fill the seasonal demand.

"Moreover, our county is not well served by New Jersey Transit. There is no reliable transportation to get people from west to east, for example from Villas or Woodbine to the shore communities for these seasonal jobs,” she continued.

According to chamber estimates, there are about 3,000 international students in the county for about 10 weeks during the summer.

About 2,300 of the total work from Wildwood to Cape May out of a total of about 5,000-6,000 students in New Jersey spread out primarily along the coast headed north from Cape May County.

The students must be enrolled in a college or university in their home country so are only eligible for the J-1 program for three years. Many are studying for professional careers in engineering, medicine or law.

They contribute, according to Clark, much financial benefit to the local economy since they must rent a place and pay for their meals with the primary benefits to the students of learning better English, understanding more about America first hand, and making friends here.

While sometimes there is grumbling among residents in letters to the editor for example that the international students are “taking jobs away from Americans,” in reality that is not the case.

One Ocean City resident, John Szramiak, summed up the situation by saying, “I’ve lived overseas, and it was always a really positive learning experience for me. It’s good that we can host these international kids here since they provide needed staffing and hopefully they will go back to their home countries with great memories and friendships made while in our region.”

Morey's Piers

Denise Beckson, human resources director for Morey’s Piers, an employer of J-1 students on the U.S. Department of State summer work travel program, provided a list of the 37 nationalities represented by the approximately 554 students they are hosting this year.

It is a veritable United Nations including Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Great Britain, Bulgaria, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Philippines, Georgia, Ghana, Hungary, India, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

“Our international students serve in a variety of frontline jobs with a lot of guest interaction including those such as admissions, ride and game operators, F & B (food and beverage), and lifeguards. We provide all the necessary training for each job which varies depending on the job,” stated Beckson.

She continued by noting, “we are fortunate to have the international students work with us in the summer. It affords our community the opportunity to be ambassadors of American hospitality and way of life, and the students provide much needed human resources to our tourism industry that does not have a large local population to draw from to fill all the summer jobs.”

“We have worked with the Summer Work Travel (SWT) program since at least the mid-1980s. We struggle to fill our summer positions with the small local population; without the SWT program, it would not be possible to be fully operational. These students allow businesses like Morey’s Piers to provide the vacation experience our customers seek.”

“The SWT program is a public diplomacy program, providing educated middle-class students from around the world an American cultural immersion experience.

"The participants make lifelong friends with Americans, improve their English and have a deeper understanding of American culture. This program helps to spread good will towards Americans worldwide. And, in exchange, it helps the tourism economy by providing much needed human resources to seasonal areas without populations that can sustain the summer visitor swell, “ concluded Beckson.

ShopRite, a Major Host

ShopRite is another major host of students on the work travel J-1 program.

"We value the contributions of all our associates at ShopRite, including students from near and far, who share our passion for the food industry and want to gain experience in our supermarket. We're proud to operate stores in the Garden State - known around the world for its fresh produce - and welcome the opportunity to develop new talent," stated Amanda Fischer, director of business relations.

B&B Operators

Linda Steenrod, owner of Billmae Cottage, guest suites (apartments), in Cape May, described her experience with J-1 students, saying "we had students from Turkey and they were wonderful - anxious to help, did a thorough job after our training.

"We got to know them well and grew to ‘love' " them - like adopted sons. They ate with us, got to know and play with our dogs, got to meet family members, and we eventually visited them in Turkey and hope to go back to visit sometime in the near future.

"My opinion is that this program is invaluable for all involved. The businesses that hire these J-1 visa student workers need them since most are very seasonal businesses.

"The J-1 visa students can work later into the fall season ... and gain experience in various jobs, get experience in speaking English, meet people and families, and get to know our country through visits to key places.

"The most important part, for me, is that people to people bonds are formed which are unlikely to be easily broken and which eases and strengthens our relationship with other countries through this people to people bond.

"It would be a disservice to our international relationships as well as to so very many businesses if this program were to be hampered or worse yet, discontinued.”

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