A proposed plan by the White House could cripple hospitality and tourism businesses across the nation.

In a recent study commissioned by the Alliance for Cultural Exchange the independent research firm, EurekaFacts, validates the potential doom and gloom for seasonal, summer and hospitality businesses that rely on the help of foreign students and interns to keep their businesses running.

A White House interagency group, led by Steven Miller, seems determine to muddy political waters, stirring visitor exchange programs with highly-charged political issues like immigration and preserving American jobs and security. What the rogue committee overseeing the “Buy American Hire American,” Executive Order, seems to be overlooking is that the J1 Visa Program, which includes the Summer Work Travel (SWT), was established as a diplomacy program that creates goodwill around the globe.  In other words, foreign students and interns who participate leave the U.S. with a far better understanding of and feeling about America.  The other irony is that, according to the study, jobs are not being taken away from American workers, they are preserving them by allowing businesses to run fully staffed at peak capacity.

The EurekaFact study surveyed both J1 participants and employers to determine the motivation behind program participation. Not surprisingly, the findings support a thesis of a shortage of seasonal employees as the key factor driving SWT placements. The lack of available college students, a proportionally smaller workforce involved in tourism-related fields, and high work force participation rates indicate, that employers are having real problems meeting seasonal labor needs.  Record low unemployment across the U.S. isn’t helping the situation either.

Over half of these employers surveyed identified labor shortage as their main reason for participating in the SWT program, but a large percentage say cultural exchange is another key motivator to participate. Cultural exchange and diversity are seen as business advantages.  The report findings show that employers are worried about what will happen to their businesses – many of them small (under 50 employees), if J1 programs go away.

Hardest hit by labor shortages are the hospitality and food service industries.  American tourist towns are suffering too.  In areas where tourism soars during the summer months, the supply of local candidates falls drastically below the demand.  Even the number of SWT cultural exchange participants and other low-skilled work visas aren’t enough to fill available positions. In these areas, competition for help is fierce, and American workers job hop looking for higher wages.  In contrast, SWT students stay put and stay happy with the income they receive that enables them to live, work and play in the United States. Many would not be able to pay the modest program fees without the work component.

The program participant survey clearly shows that it is the cultural exchange component of the program, rather than an opportunity to earn money, that is attracting

young people into the program. Earning money does not necessarily distract from the cultural mission of the program. Rather, a strong argument can be made that earning money while in the U.S. enables participants who otherwise might not have an opportunity to visit the U.S. to do so.

And the argument that these students are stealing American jobs isn’t holding water either. SWT participants supplement existing workforces in areas experiencing

labor shortages rather than taking jobs from local workers.

The White House policy group should be looking on the bright side, tweeting about low unemployment across the nation and about the fact that American youths prefer to study or intern during the summer months than to take jobs as waiters, waitresses, cooks, lifeguards, and pool and theme park attendants.   Furthermore, American youths who are not busy in school or applying their academic learning in American businesses, are already employed full time and aren’t attracted to short-term employment opportunities that end with summer vacation.  Exchange visitors want to participate at a level that American youngsters don’t.

Take Vanja Dokic for example. He’s a Serbian student majoring in hospitality and tourism.  He’s working at a trendy Cherry Creek hotel, and he is serious about being the best darn pool boy that establishment has ever seen.  And evidently he is, because his manager named him an “outstanding employee” last month.

Why do these students excel in positions many Americans don’t find appealing?  They are grateful to have a chance to work and travel in, what they believe to be, one of the greatest countries in the world. That’s paraphrasing Vanja and echoed by just about every exchange participant we’ve ever interviewed. They have an attitude of gratitude, and it shows through in the effort they make for their American host employers.

Employers are worried and probably should be. Over half (50.8%) reported a potential big negative impact on their revenue if they were not able to host SWT participants, and many also stated that this would have a negative impact on their ability to do business (87.4%). More specifically, employers expressed that if the SWT program was unavailable, they would likely or very likely need to reduce services provided (56.5% of businesses reported this outcome), would be required to reduce hours of operation (44.8%), or would have to lay off permanent staff after the season (28.7%).

Eliminating the program will only exacerbate the brewing perfect storm of staffing challenges already facing the hospitality industry.  While unemployment is decreasing, hospitality industry turnover is increasing.   In fact, the turnover rate in the hospitality industry is over 70% – half of it being workers who voluntarily leave their jobs. The industry association summarizing these rates concluded that workers in the hospitality industry are leaving for better jobs, even though the industry as a whole is increasing salaries in order to compete for and retain employees.

If you’re in the hospitality business, you should be concerned.  But rest assured, we’re fighting hard for your business and ours.

Alliance Abroad has hired lobbying gurus and banned together with invested organizations, government entities and sympathetic elected officials. Together, we are lobbying members of congress and opposing the proposed changes.

We’re waging war, armed with the recently-published facts that elimination of J1 program could unintentionally eliminate many American businesses and jobs.

Want to help? You can and should.

Any employer who is concerned about the impact to his or her business should speak loudly in opposition to the elimination of these important cultural exchange programs.

We recommend you inform elected officials about your personal concerns and individual business scenario. They might include issues expressed by many of the other companies surveyed like:

  • We can’t find enough local workers
  • We can’t find workers who will stay in seasonal jobs
  • We have tried to fill seasonal positions with Americans to no avail
  • Without SWT and interns, we won’t be able to sustain normal operations
  • Without SWT and interns, our customer service will suffer
  • Without SWT and interns, we won’t have the revenue to keep full-time U.S. employees
  • Our customers and culture benefit from the diversity and perspective
  • SWT workers are dependable, reliable and enthusiastic
  • SWT costs US taxpayers nothing yet contributes hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the U.S. economy
  • We’re sunk without these students!

This is a serious situation for hotels across Colorado and the country and your help is needed.

Show your support of the cultural exchange programs, by joining advocacy efforts. To learn more about how to contact elected officials, click here.

Your voice matters and so does the future of diplomacy programs contribute to peace and prosperity at home and abroad.

A copy of the full Eureka Fact report is available here.