(March 20, 2020) The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs announced a 60-day pause on its programs as of last Thursday because of the COVID-19, or novel coronavirus outbreak. Students with J-1 visas cannot travel during this time. The bureau said it will review the decision every 30 days after. 

This will only minimally affect J-1 visa student workers who work in the resort area, according to Melanie Pursel, president/CEO of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, who said the pause will last until May 13, which is around when students start arriving.

MP

Melanie Pursel

Only a few hundred of the estimated 4,000 are typically scheduled to arrive before that date. Pursel said those students arriving earlier than May 13 are mostly from the Dominican Republic and will simply push back their travels a week or two. 

Others still may slightly delay their travels for personal health reasons.

“These are young people in universities, so they’re going to have parents that are worried,” Pursel said. 

The contracts between the students and their workplaces have already been set. Pursel added that all the students are covered by a health insurance carrier. If students contract the coronavirus, they cannot travel until they have been medically cleared. 

“All in all, by the time this thing hopefully has started to correct itself, they will be ready and excited to travel again,” Pursel said. 

She advised Ocean City businesses to prepare for the possibility of a slight shortage in employees at the start of the summer season. 

“We are optimistic that we would be able to have the students here, but with the uncertainty of this epidemic, we want to be prepared” Pursel said. “Maybe be more aggressive in hiring college students, if they can.” 

She said that she is cautiously optimistic that Ocean City will still have another strong summer with the J-1 students. 

“This is such a fluid situation, so we’re really trying to pay attention to updates from the state department as they arrive,” Pursel said.

Elizabeth covers Worcester County issues for Ocean City Today. In 2018, she graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa with a bachelor of arts. After graduation, Elizabeth spent a year with Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Wilmington, Delaware.

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