Appropriations bill approval maintains public hearing process to modify program
(Aug. 9, 2019) Proposed modifications to the U.S. State Department’s Exchange Visitor Program, which provides Ocean City’s annual stock of J-1 student workers, will continue to require a public hearing process, at least through fiscal year 2019 following Congressional approval of an appropriations bill.
The Alliance for International Exchange issued a statement praising the recent bill signing, which requires the Committees of Appropriations to be consulted regarding how any proposed alterations to the exchange program would affect U.S. diplomacy goals, along with economic considerations.
The appropriations bill includes a provision that specifically requires the Exchange Visitor Programs to remain as currently enacted under the Mutual Education and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961.
The one hitch is that the measure also requires the U.S. Department of State to undergo a transparent, formal rule-making process through consultation with Congress before any changes can be made.
“The Alliance and its 90-member organizations, as well as more than 1,000 American seasonal businesses and 26,000 families that host exchange visitors, voiced support for exchange programs,” the statement said.
Ocean City Hotel-Restaurant-Motel Association Executive Director Susan Jones expressed relief with the legislative outcome.
“We are pleased that Congress protected the J-1 Summer Work Travel program, as it plays an integral part of the summer season in Ocean City,” she said. “In fact, I can’t imagine a summer without these hardworking, super-interesting students.”
Anne Marie Conestabile, United Work and Travel program director, said the provision was also included in the fiscal 2018 appropriations bill.
Unlike fee hikes recently enacted for other J-1 programs, Conestabile said the Summer Work Travel program was exempted, with fees remaining at $35.
The Alliance for International Exchange highlighted the diplomacy elements of the Summer Work Travel program, with a recent study reporting that three-quarters of participants returned home with an improved image of the U.S.
“A recent study showed how Summer Work Travel contributes approximately $5,300 per participant to local economies, for more than a half-billion-dollar impact nationally,” the statement read. “It does so without negatively affecting regional youth employment opportunities.”
Jones said the resort rolls out the welcome mat each year when J-1 student workers arrive.
“At the beginning of the summer, we had a ‘Welcome to OC,’ pool party … and there were so many nationalities present,” she said. “Intermingling with them was really fun.”
Additionally, Jones said the variety of nationalities employed at the resort each summer offers a multi-cultural experience for visitors.
“It also provides a unique experience for our visitors to meet people from many different countries,” she said.