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J1 programs gain Senate support and funding

A White House group got a gentle hand-slapping from the Senate, making it clear that they can’t make unilateral changes to J1 programs without going through the proper process. The Senate Appropriations Committee took the upper hand on a small working group that has been quietly reviewing exchange visitor programs. Rumors have been flying that the group, led by Steven Miller, plans to put a kibosh on exchange visitor programs, but the Senate says they can’t continue to act with cloak and dagger tactics.

In fact, the Senate Appropriations Committee seems determined not only to deter any attempt to eliminate the J1 programs, they seem intent on protecting exchange visitor programs ensuring that they remain fully funded.

Proponents of Exchange Visitor Programs – American businesses and communities, elected officials and government agencies – are applauding the Senate action. Ilir Zherka, Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange, an association of businesses that sponsor the J1 visa programs in question, says the Senate reflects “deep bi-partisan support for these programs.”  The community of exchange advocates, including Alliance Abroad, have been hard at work educating the American public that changes to the J1 program “would be a setback to U.S. national security and diplomacy efforts.”

American employers, especially those in the seasonal hospitality and tourism sector, are concerned that elimination of these programs would “deal a devastating blow’’ to them and the communities in which they operate. Both depend on foreign students participating in the J1 Exchange Visitor Program to keep their businesses operating and revenues flowing.

The J1 programs bring students from overseas to the U.S. to learn English, study, gain exposure to American culture and supplement the American workforce during peak business seasons when local labor is scare or highly competitive. The program was established to create positive relationships between global citizens, and the work component is simply a way in which the participants can defray program fees and living costs.

Participants are interested in learning more about America and American businesses and the positive impressions they leave with help to establish stronger ties with the future leaders of foreign nations. To eliminate a program that aides U.S. interests here and abroad is short-sighted and could have devastating immediate effects on the U.S. economy and longer-term consequences on U.S. diplomacy efforts that keep Americans safer around the globe.

Purely from an economic standpoint, it makes little sense to eliminate programs that provide businesses with seasonal, short-term help in areas of local labor shortages, and that contribute to local economies. The Summer Work Travel Program, for example, contributes more than $500 million to the economy each year through program fees, travel, housing and entertainment. Moreover, many businesses and sponsors of the J1 programs would have to lay off thousands of American workers if significant changes are made.

These programs are fully self-supporting, costing U.S. tax payers absolutely nothing. It stands to reason that they should stay intact, continuing to lift the American economy and reputation and positively influencing the next generation of global leaders.

The Senate’s action ensures that the international exchange community and the U.S. businesses that would be harmed by changes to the J1 program will have the opportunity to weigh in with their concerns and that any changes will undergo due process.

The Appropriations Committee put their money behind their mouths, also approving $634 million for Educational and Cultural Exchanges, the highest level ever appropriated for exchanges.

Alliance Abroad shares the Senate Committee’s belief that the “ECA funds and oversees a wide range of critical international exchange programs which enable people-to-people diplomacy and promote U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.”

We urge any advocate of diplomacy programs such as J1 programs to voice their concerns to elected official and to join the growing movement of support.