Not only is the government restricting immigration from specific countries they are now looking into cutting down the J-1 cultural exchange program. This program includes 13 categories and allows up to 300,000 foreign visitors to come to the United States each year. The majority of participants in this program are students on their school breaks and are under the age of 30. These students work across America in various areas ranging from ski resorts to amusement parks. The review is looking into the possibility of eliminating certain categories of the visa, such as workers programs to give the jobs back to American workers. Some additional options being considered are imposing new regulations on participants and requiring employers to provide proof that they cannot find Americans to fill these jobs.
Tourism to the USA and within it is an industry that may not be the intended target of these changes however it is feeling the collateral damage. Foreign visitors help boost local economies by spending their money and working seasonal jobs that American citizens do not want. Dave Boyd, director of risk and regulatory affairs at the National Ski Areas Association stated, “We’ve always been interested in hiring local college students, but they don’t want the jobs. They want year-round opportunities.” Mike Solimano, president and general manager of Killington Resort stated that “Our J-1 and H2-B team members are critical to our ability to operate the resort. Without these supplemental team members, we could not keep all of our outlets open and maintain our stellar reputation.”
According to the National Ski Areas Association, an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 J-1 workers are employed at ski resorts nationwide each winter. Ski towns rely heavily on these workers to operate efficiently throughout the summer and winter seasons. The prospect of tightening these foreign visas may make it harder for ski resorts and ski towns to continue to hire international seasonal workers. This, in turn, could lead the unemployment rate in ski towns to increase, at the present unemployment rates in ski towns is low. Approximately 12% to 15% of the staff who work at Squaw Valley are J-1 workers. Andrew Wirth, CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings stated that ending the program would be an economic blow to the resort.
“It would be worse than the drought,” – Andrew Wirth.
Ending the J-1 program would be an economic blow to ski towns and resorts that they may not recover from. While no official decisions have been made yet it is crucial ski towns voice their opinions, that their opinions are allowed to be heard and that their opinions are considered on all grounds. If this program is cut there will be a ripple effect that may cause irreparable harm across the nation.