(June 14, 1013) Out of concern that businesses might not be able to find enough employees in future summers, the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association is asking Sen. Barbara Mikulski for help.
In a letter written to Mikulski last week, Susan Jones, the association’s executive director, asked her to support an exemption in the Senate Immigration Bill that would ensure international students could continue to come to Ocean City and elsewhere in the United States for short-term employment.
“There are a few provisions that could greatly harm, and possibly end, the State Department’s Exchange Visitor Program (EVP). These changes would seriously alter the Summer Work Travel J1 Visa program which Ocean City businesses rely on for employees,” Jones wrote. “Last summer, there were close to 4,000 J1-Visa participants in Ocean City. Due to the school calendars, these students are able to arrive in May and stay through September. Without J1 participants, many businesses would not be able to operate at full capacity, resulting in lost tax revenue.”
The programs bringing the international students to Ocean City and elsewhere are administered through a public-private partnership between the Department of State and sponsor organizations. Language in the bill that prohibits the sponsor organizations from collecting fees from the J1 participants for placement and support services could eliminate the program.
“Without program fees – which also cover health insurance for participants – sponsor organizations would not have the resources to meet these regulatory mandates and would not be able to operate,” Jones wrote.
“Our resort town will be devastated without international staff,” she added.
Students participating in the Summer Work Travel program typically work for three months and travel for one month before returning to their home countries. Many of the international students working in Ocean City come from Eastern European countries and Ireland. Many Chinese students are also working in Ocean City this summer.
International students fill a variety of openings, and many work in Boardwalk businesses, restaurants and hotels, especially in housekeeping services.
The police department is involved with the students each summer because of orientations, if they are victims of a crime and if they get into trouble themselves.
“We try to support the program and tell them we’re here to help them,” said Public Affairs Officer Mike Levy on Tuesday.
“We want them to use crosswalks, to report crimes. We remind them of basic tenets of safety and we warn them about swimming in the ocean at night. We also tell them to lock up valuables and to put their money in a bank. We try, during orientation sessions, to remind them that law enforcement in the United States is different from a lot of countries. We’re here to help them,” he said.
“From our perspective, we won’t be impacted [by the provision in the Senate Immigration Bill], but it will change the business model for a lot of Ocean City businesses,” Levy said.