President Donald Trump promised during the campaign to eliminate the J-1 visa program, and The Wall Street Journal reported recently that plans are now underway to make major reductions in five of the program's 15 categories.
Under the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, approximately 300,000 foreign visitors from 200 countries are allowed into the country to work, study and travel. Eighty-five percent of these J-1 visa holders are 30 years old or younger.
According to the State Department, 10,642 of those visa holders lived and worked in New Jersey in 2016. Many worked as au pairs, camp counselors, doctors, university professors and researchers, and secondary-school teachers. Others were students.
And thousands of them worked as seasonal employees in New Jersey’s $44 billion-a-year tourism industry. Now, the state’s tourism and hospitality industries are aghast at the prospect of losing these workers.
Trump apparently believes that these foreign workers are taking jobs from Americans. But he employs many J-1 visa holders at his hotel properties. Maybe he should ask his own managers why they rely on these foreign workers.
Because Trump’s managers would know what the New Jersey hospitality industry knows — from Shore boardwalks to Great Adventure to dozens of other seasonal businesses large and small: These workers aren’t taking jobs from Americans. They are taking jobs that these businesses cannot otherwise fill.
The operators of Morey’s Pier properties in Wildwood have long relied on J-1 visa holders to fill summer positions. The Morey organization does hold job fairs to recruit local workers — but it never finds enough. So, it has sent recruiters to Europe to find workers; it sets up housing in South Jersey for these workers; and it would take all the foreign workers it can find.
Why? Because it is an incontrovertible fact that many New Jersey workers, for whatever reason, don’t want these seasonal, often grueling positions that are critical to the state’s tourism industry.
“I can say this without being alarmist. Cuts would be devastating to the hospitality industry in the state. From Morey’s Pier to Great Adventure to Crystal Springs, every seasonal business uses this visa program extensively,” Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
And there’s another benefit to the program. Generally, these foreign visitors work for the summer season and then spend time traveling in the United States — while, as the State Department puts it, “they get to experience U.S. society and culture and engage with Americans.”
Fostering international understanding is still a good thing, right?
It is difficult to imagine the harm in this program, which is why it has existed since 1961.
There’s really only one explanation for Trump’s position: The nation’s growing xenophobia — and his desire to pander to it.