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08/30/2017

Program Providing Nearly 3,000 Workers to Ohio Businesses Under Attack

J-1 Summer Work Travel Program Essential for Ohio's Travel Economy

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About the Issue

The J-1 Summer Work Travel visa program is administered by the U.S. Department of State to encourage cultural exchange and understanding. More than 3,000 international university and college students work annually at Ohio businesses because of this program. They fill important jobs in the industry, allowing our businesses to stay open longer and better serve customers.

These workers are important because many employers are unable to fill open positions. This is happening for several reasons, including the fact that while seasons have expanded, student workers are heading back to school earlier and earlier. According to "Summer Work Travel Program Review" report by Eureka Facts, "The seasonal labor shortage can in part be explained by the changing patterns in summer time employment by American youth. Those enrolled in schools or colleges are increasingly placing more value on other summer time activities like academic pursuits or internships. On the other hand, with an improving economy, youth who are not enrolled in school are finding permanent year-round jobs and are also not interested in seasonal employment."  

What is the Issue?

President Trump has identified review and possible elimination of the J-1 Summer Work Travel program as part of his Buy American, Hire American executive order. Originally not on the chopping block, this program was revealed in the Wall Street Journal  to be included. Also in jeopardy are J-1 Camp Counselors, Interns, Trainees and Au Pairs.  

Concerns that exchange programs displace Americans from jobs or depress wages are unfounded and incorrect. This program helps business owners stay open longer, fill more hotel rooms and restaurant tables, operate more rides - in other words, serve more American customers and hire more American workers. The Eureka report also concludes that the program is unlikely to compete with American jobs. 

Conversations with Ohio businesses, along with a recent report issued by the Alliance for International Exchange, identified the following potential impacts if the program were to be eliminated:

  • Fewer Americans will be hired, as without J-1 workers, businesses will have to limit hours and days of operation or close certain attractions, exhibits or parts of their business.
  • Customer service will suffer as we won't have enough people to meet expectations
  • Sustained overtime of non-J-1 workers being required to fill in the gaps will result in increased attrition and burnout
  • Operation costs will increase due to increased overtime

Based on Eureka findings, the absence of Summer Work Travel workers would have a negative impact on employers by decreasing revenue (51%), curtailing their ability to operate at full capacity (45%) and lowering customer service and satisfaction (90%). More than a quarter of businesses surveyed said without the Summer Work Travel program, they would not be open during peak or shoulder seasons because of lack of staff and 29% said this would also mean laying off permanent American staff.  

 

Link to J-1 Summer Work Travel Talking Points

Action Steps

  1. Take the OTA survey being used to gather facts and stories about this potential issue. We will be calling and writing Ohio lawmakers, so it is important that we have your stories to share.
  2. Call or write your member of Congress and the Senate to let them know:
    • The White House is considering elimination of the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program.
    • This program is important for your business, improving your guest experiences and enabling you to fully staff your business. 

      [If you do not employ Summer Work Travel students, consider saying how this action will hurt the Ohio travel economy as it impacts some of our industry’s most heavily visited attractions and communities. The resulting losses could ripple throughout the state.]

    • Eliminating the program will hurt your business and the Ohio economy. It could actually decrease the number of American workers you, or others in Ohio, are able to employ.
  3. Call the White House, Office of the Public Liaison: 202-456-1111
  4. Write the Secretary of State, Office of Secretary Tillerson to voice your opposition to eliminate the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program. Please take a few moments and submit a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Here is an easy way to make this happen. Although it says "see the letter below", recognize that after you complete your contact information on the form, the next page gives you a copy of the letter that is editable. That way, you can personalize if you wish.
  5. Join a group of employers who support the Summer Work Travel program on the Americans for Cultural Exchange website https://www.americansforculturalexchange.org
  6. Share #SaveJ1 messages on social media

Update and What OTA is Doing

10/04/2017

On Oct. 3, Ohio Travel Association participated in a conference call with IAAPA, US Travel, US Chamber and organizations nationwide who are working to keep the J-1 Summer Work Travel and Camp Counselor programs from being eliminated or drastically altered. Calls are held weekly and organized by the Council for International Educational Exchange.

As reported earlier, the White House has lumped review of these important programs into its Buy American Hire American Executive Order.

Goals of this advocacy effort are to prevent J-1s from being part of the Buy America Hire Americans discussion and subsequent policies. The second goal is to get those on the Hill directly engaged with White House staff, which is where these decisions are currently being made.

Some of the changes to the programs that are of concern include the following:

  • complete program elimination,
  • more stringent requirements for businesses to certify actions taken to hire American workers instead of these workers,
  • caps on the number of J-1 workers who can be employed by a business, and/or
  • moratoriums on existing workers within the system.

Proposed new rules could be issued as an Executive Order as early as late-October.

It is important that any changes to these programs go through due process in compliance with the Administrative Procedures Act with opportunities for economic impact reviews and stakeholder input. This is the message that is being given to the White House.

During the call, it was reported that some businesses have individually contacted the State Department (which oversees these programs) looking for expansions or changing categories of workers (Summer Work Travel to Au Pair, etc.). Right now, all of these requests are being deferred to a later time.

There is currently a resolution in the US House in support of the program with approximately 20 co-sponsors. OTA has reached out to organizers to get more details so Ohio co-sponsors can be secured as well.

A hearing was scheduled for the Senate Judiciary Committee, but it was cancelled and is being rescheduled. The State Department is likely to testify. Although this is probably about the H Visa program, there is talk of the two programs being merged. .

Discussions are being held now regarding what compromise could be introduced that protects American workers while continuing the program.

Fifteen hotel owners are meeting with the Vice President’s office tomorrow. We will be kept updated on this discussion.

State fact sheets showing use of J-1 workers in each state will be available end of the week.

U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del) secured the inclusion of an amendment to protect the program from modifications in the Fiscal Year 2018 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously on Sept. This amendment (provided below) helps protect the program in the near future, but it is not law. It mandates a formal rulemaking process before changes are made that would include committee notification, review of program goals and economic impact of any changes.

“EXCHANGE VISITOR PROGRAM.—None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to modify the Exchange Visitor Program administered by the Department of State to implement the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, as amended (Public Law 87-256, 22 U.S.C. 2451, et seq.), except through a formal rulemaking process pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act and notwithstanding the exceptions to such rulemaking process in such Act: Provided, That funds made available for such purpose shall only be made available after consultation with, and subject to the regular notification procedures of, the Committees on Appropriations, regarding how any proposed modification would affect the public diplomacy goals of, and the estimated economic impact on, the United States.”

9/22/2017

We continue to reach out to federal decision makers and are still collecting business comments. Consistent with national strategies, we are keeping all of you informed of action steps needed.  

9/15/2017

Recent news articles of interest include one in the Huffington Post, as well as an Ohio specific story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Ohio Travel Association has been asked to be part of a national coalition, Alliance for Cultural Exchange, meeting every week to keep tabs on this issue.

We are also contacting all Ohio federal lawmakers with the results of our study, asking them for their support and the need to incorporate Ohio delegates in any review of this program.   

9/6/2017

Survey of Ohio Travel Economy Businesses on the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program

Ohio’s travel economy is significant, and hospitality and travel is a growth industry for the state. Last year, travel generated $43 billion for Ohio’s economy, including $9 billion in indirect sales as travel-related businesses purchase goods and services from suppliers. As an example, when a hotel purchases agricultural products to feed its guests, cleaning supplies, accounting services, office supplies, etc., these purchases support multiple other industries.

In order to operate hotels, attractions, restaurants, retail shops, museums, campgrounds, ferryboats and a myriad of other businesses that travelers use, businesses must have enough qualified employees. Without enough qualified and available employees to operate these businesses, businesses will reduce hours and days of operation or limit services offered.

Overview of Survey

The Ohio Travel Association surveyed Ohio businesses last week regarding their experience with the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program, as well as consequences should this program be discontinued as is being discussed by the Trump administration.

The J-1 Summer Work Travel visa program is administered by the U.S. Department of State to encourage cultural exchange and understanding. More than 3,000 international university and college students work annually at Ohio businesses because of this program.

Ohio businesses completing the survey say the program has many economic and social benefits. In addition to broadening cultural awareness and understanding of international students (as well as their American co-workers),  J-1 workers fill vital jobs in the industry, allowing our businesses to fully operate and better serve customers, and they support American jobs.

J-1 Workers are in All Sectors and Throughout the State             

Most Ohio businesses using J-1 workers average 22 workers per year, ranging from two to 70 workers hired. Cedar Point hires more than 1,600 and was not included in the equation of average workers used.

J-1 workers are found in all sectors of the industry, including restaurants, hotels, retail and attractions businesses. Most Ohio workers are in the northwest region, although they are working throughout the state. The Americans for Cultural Exchange – a coalition of businesses supporting the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program – includes businesses from the following Ohio communities: Cincinnati, Wadsworth, Akron, Put-in-Bay, Sandusky, Geneva-on-the-Lake, Kelleys Island, Cleveland Heights, St. Louisville, Middle Bass Island, Boardman, Carollton, Youngstown and Port Clinton.  

Businesses most likely to need supplemental employees are located in less populous areas and have higher numbers of full-time and seasonal jobs. Those less likely to use the program operate in central and southwest Ohio and have more part-time employees than their colleague businesses.

Due to the location of these businesses in less populous areas, the economic impact of reduced business would be widespread, as many of these businesses are located in communities where travel is among the top employers and economic drivers. With limited economic diversity, these communities would be hit harder than those where there are other industries to support jobs, tax revenue and local businesses.

Loss of J-1 Program Means Loss of American Jobs

All of the businesses (100%) surveyed said they would have to reduce operating hours and/or days, or close parts of their business, if they could no longer hire J-1 workers. Faced with this reduction in hours, days and offerings, businesses would hire fewer American workers, eliminating some full-time, part-time and seasonal positions. Some businesses indicated they would have to close completely without having J-1 workers to supplement American staff.

There aren’t Enough Qualified Americans to Employ

None of the businesses surveyed said J-1 workers are replacing American workers. In fact, 100% said there are not enough willing and qualified Americans to fill all the jobs open at their place of business.

On a scale of 1 (Not Very Difficult) and 10 (Very Difficult), businesses reported a 7.3 level of difficulty in finding qualified workers. As expected, those who hire J-1 workers answered this question at a higher 8.8 difficulty compared to those who do not use these workers (6).

Having enough qualified employees is a major business concern for 71% of all surveyed businesses, whether they hire J-1 workers or not. Fifty-nine percent (59%) said they can’t find qualified people to fill jobs, and that school calendar creep, internships and summer school limit availability of teen employees to fill positions. Shoulder season jobs (April to May and September to October) are hardest to fill (53%).

Comments from Ohio Businesses

Elimination of the J-1 Summer Work Travel program would mean there would not be enough employees for our seasonal business to operate and this could possibly impact being able to keep the place open.

Our business is in a very small town that cannot support the seasonal employment needs. Our food service would not be able to operate as each year we find only one or two local people to work our kitchen.

We tried for years to find local employees available to work during our operating season, April through October. It is very, very difficult to find anyone interested working in the hotel if we cannot offer a year-round position. The J-1 workers are able fill in the spots, with some arriving in the beginning of our business season, and some staying through almost the end of our season. Without the J-1 workers we unfortunately have to turn down some hotel bookings, since we cannot find replacement employees to serve our guests. My husband and I cannot handle the hotel duties without the sufficient work force, and we cannot provide an excellent service for our guests. Eliminating the J-1 program would have a very bad impact on our hotel business, and definitely very negative impact on our guests and tourism in our area, where we depend on the summer season.

Both my American workers and my customers enjoy having the novelty of the international students working in our business. We've employed J-1 visa students for more than 25 years, and our regular customers love to see them return for multiple summers, better their English while becoming more fluent in American culture as well. Our business would be greatly impacted, as due to summer internship requirements by universities, we're struggling to find enough American workers to fill our needs. Also, the J1 students often take time off from students for their American adventure in work and travel. They arrive in the US in June, work through the shoulder season of September and October, when our American employees have returned to school, then take the opportunity to travel to fabulous cities such as Las Vegas, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York before returning home with tuition money, lifetime friends, and an amazing experience. About 60% of our J1 visa students come to us through recommendations from previous students, which is a testament to their experience with our organization and the J-1 visa program. If this program is eliminated, the J-1 students will suffer, our business will suffer, and my American workers will lose the opportunity to become more aware of other countries, cultures, etc.

Since we have been unsuccessful in finding American employees to fill our housekeeping positions, we rely on our J-1 visa students for our seasonal housekeeping positions. Not having the opportunity to hire J-1 visa students would cripple our small business, forcing us to limit the amount of rooms we can rent, as well as shortening our season in our family-owned and operated bed and breakfast.

If the J-1 program was eliminated it would be detrimental to our business. We are a seasonal, completely family-owned summer business that operates from May through October. We are extremely high volume and employ more than 220 total staff members company-wide. We are able to fill a good majority of our positions with American workers, however about 90% of them are college students. American schools and universities go back to school in the beginning and middle of August so we lose most of our workforce. We rely on our J-1 students to help us finish out the season which is still EXTREMELY busy the entire month of August and September. We shuffle staff around during our end of season, and our J-1 students learn multiple positions and are able to be scheduled in many areas which is so valuable to us. We literally would not be able to open our doors in many parts of our business if we are not able to hire J-1 students. Our business is also located on an island in Lake Erie, so this makes it even harder for us to find a seasonal workforce, especially end of season, because if we were to find people willing to work they have to rely on a ferry to get here which is not reliable in the fall. Overall, these students are amazing. We are one big family here, and we love meeting them each year and working alongside of them to make sure they have a great experience, while also being able to keep our business staffed, with our doors open. We hope lawmakers will be open to hearing our stories. Our livelihood depends on keeping our doors open the whole season. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.

Now that Ohio colleges and universities are all on semesters, it is impossible to hire enough seasonal help to carry us through the fall. The labor pool in Ohio has gotten to the point that we are struggling to keep various parts of our business open even with the J-1 visa program. The financial impact of winding down this program would be downright devastating to our seasonal operation.

We would cut hours. We cannot get American kids to work at these positions.

We are seasonal, and there aren't enough Americans to fill the seasonal positions that we need to fill. We would have to reduce our hours and what our businesses offer to our tourists.

First and foremost, the J-1 Summer Work Travel program has provided all of our businesses with a unique cultural environment. For more than 20 years, we have welcomed international staff to our workplace. Their interaction with our American staff has really provided a very positive effect on each of them. It saddens me to think that this J-1 Program could be eliminated. These international students come to experience our culture, improve their English, travel our country and make some money along the way. The J-1 Program is also an important resource we use to staff our seasonal business. There just has NEVER been enough American students to fill all the positions. The elimination of the J-1Program would seriously affect our ability to operate our businesses. These students are a welcome addition to our staff. We have always abided by the guidelines of the Department of State and have worked with sponsor agencies who are very clear on the requirements that we, as a Host Company, must meet. We have been very fortunate to invite international staff to experience our country and culture and have always welcomed them into our resort community. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share our POSITIVE experiences regarding this J-1 Program. We are hopeful that lawmakers will agree and push for the continuation of this program.

We run a small hotel with 48 beds. We would have to reduce how many rooms we can make available do to a lack of cleaning staff. Fourteen (14) weeks in our seasonal business generates 90 percent of our revenue. We need J-1 workers to operate our business.

We would lose half my workforce in my retail stores, and we would have to close earlier in our seasonal business, due to the fact US college students in Ohio return to school end of August. Our J-1 students are here till mid-September. They are our workforce and keep our businesses open in the fall. Our J-1 visa students are part of our work team, and they work alongside Americans as equals. It's imperative to "not to think any less of them," due to the fact they come from other countries. Our business has had J-1 work students for more than 20+ years, have made wonderful connections with most and continue to keep in touch with ones who have come and gone.

We cannot get American workers who can complete our operating seasons as they all go back to school.

We struggle to find staff even with the international staff coming over. With the elimination of the J-1 program, we would not be able to serve as many campers due to a lack of staff.

We would not be able to adequately staff our business during non-summer months. There are not enough qualified people in our resort town to handle the influx of tourists and staff.

We would have to scale back the number of seats in our establishment, as we would not be able to handle the volume of diners we handle on a daily basis, especially on weekends due to lack of servers and kitchen staff. This would severely impact our profitability as a seasonal business.

Since schools return so early, we lose ALL of our high school students the last two weeks of the year. We will have to CLOSE our Family Entertainment Center for two weeks in August, as the few high school students that work after school is NOT enough to maintain our facility and open our attractions.

We would not be able to open all the locations or stores within our business, or possibly cut hours or days

The diversity and learning experience involved in meeting and living with people from other countries is tremendous. It might be one of the best USA public relations things we do. We do not have enough qualified American staff to work our programs. Even if we did, I would still want to have several international students with us for the educational value.

Operating days while American colleges are in session would be jeopardized and may be eliminated due to inadequate staffing levels. Millions of dollars in revenue would be placed at risk. Guest experience would be compromised. Our associate experience for domestic associates would be diminished as well. Cultural exchange and the opportunity to meet fellow college students from around the world is an integral part of the work experience for our domestic associates.

8/30/2017

An industry-wide survey is being released to industry members this week to gather facts and statements to share with federal lawmakers. With this information in hand, we will be communicating with federal lawmakers and the president's staff to ensure all consequences are considered before making a decision.