Thursday, September 28, 2017

The U.S. Makes Ambassadors of Visitors

Aliens who come on J-1 visas take American values with them when they return home.

As the Trump administration revises America’s visa system to prevent abuse—such as instances in which companies bring foreigners into the U.S. to replace native workers at lower pay—one category stands out as deserving of protection: J-1 visas, for “exchange visitors.”
This broad designation covers trainees, interns, exchange students, visiting scholars, au pairs, camp counselors and the like. J-1 visas are always time-limited. They often carry a requirement that the visitor return to his home country for a fixed period, typically two years, before coming to the U.S. again. Over the past five years, an average of 325,000 such visas were issued annually.
People on J-1 visas are prohibited from holding permanent jobs here. Rather, the visas provide an opportunity for cross-cultural education and training. The idea is that when visitors return home, they bring with them the American values they were exposed to during their stay. Many J-1 visas go to young people who develop an appreciation for life and culture in the U.S. They become America’s de facto ambassadors and advocates abroad. 

A good example is the Baltic-American Freedom Foundation, on whose board we both serve. The foundation was created in 2010 to strengthen America’s ties with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We have provided nearly 300 young professionals with J-1 internships in the U.S. at private businesses, nonprofits and think tanks. Alumni report an increased understanding of the U.S. economy and political system. Many maintain personal and professional relationships with Americans. One of our former J-1 interns was elected last year to a seat in the Lithuanian Parliament.
The McCain Institute for International Leadership, where one of us works, uses J-1 visas to bring midcareer professionals from around the world to the U.S. for a one-year program. The institute, part of Arizona State University, provides placements for the visitors and trains them in ethics, values, leadership and communications. The visa-holders have worked everywhere from Intel to the Miami Herald to the Kansas City, Mo., mayor’s office. They return home as stronger leaders with a greater respect for the U.S.
Success stories from the program abound: Urmo Kübar, an Estonian, is now an adviser on civil society to his country’s president. Soraya Aziz Souleymane returned home to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and established a nonprofit that works with mining companies to strengthen their social-responsibility programs. Carlos Mayorga, a Colombian, has trained thousands of young people in the principles of entrepreneurship. Other alumni are working to advance freedom, transparency, human rights, women’s empowerment, refugee protections, international security, anticorruption and good governance.
All of them are spreading American ideals in their home countries. The U.S. can’t buy this kind of goodwill. But letting foreign visitors spend time here helps that support develop on its own. As the White House reworks the visa system, it would do well to recognize that exchange visitors on J-1s are no example of abuse: They are an investment in advancing America’s interests abroad.
Mr. Polt, a senior director at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, was U.S. ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro (2004-07) and Estonia (2009-12). Mr. Davis is chairman of the board at the Baltic-American Freedom Foundation.

No comments: