Work Travel program is essential for tourist-based economies in the US

Published on : Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Each year, nearly 100,000 students come to the U.S. via the Work Travel program. Those in the southern hemisphere come during their summer, which is the US winter. When it’s summer in the US, students mostly come from Europe to take their places.


Established the same year with the Peace Corps, the J-1 visa program was intended to promote international understanding. Au pairs and camp counsellors come to the U.S. on these visas. But Summer Work Travel students working in the leisure and hospitality sectors make up the majority of the visas.


In spite of J-1’s origin for promoting cultural exchange, a report by the International Labor Recruitment Working Group (ILRWG) said that it has become more of a temporary guest worker program.


For employers, J-1 visas help fill labour gaps, especially, when there’s low unemployment rate. Tourism-based economies in places like Idaho rely a lot on the program to fit their needs. The U.S. State Department said that Work Travel employees nearly doubled in Idaho between 2015, when there were 382 students, to 2018, when 684 students got jobs through the program.


“The program is irreplaceable, and without it, businesses like mine would struggle,” said John Curnow, the General Manager of the Limelight Hotel in Ketchum, owned by the Aspen Skiing Company.


Ketchum City Councilman Michael David said, “You can open the classifieds section of the newspaper at any time of the year and you’re going to have multiple pages of help-wanted ads in the service industry.”


Councilman David said that the visa recipients help lessen a whole community’s hiring burden when they get second and third jobs at grocery stores, restaurants or landscaping companies.


“It’s essential,” David said. “It keeps this tourist-based economy going.”


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