"Major reductions" to the J-1 cultural exchange visa program would cripple the travel and tourism businesses, bringing serious harm to local economies.

Reports have surfaced that federal government officials may be considering eliminating the incredibly beneficial J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, which includes the Summer Work Travel, Intern, Trainee, Camp Counselor and Au Pair programs. This action may be taken later this year—and would be a major mistake, hurting American workers and small businesses across the country.

Many Americans may not be familiar with the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, but they have certainly patronized businesses that benefit from it. J-1 visa recipients keep popular ski resorts running during the peak winter season, teach American children about new languages and cultures as au pairs and camp counselors, and provide needed seasonal support at hotels, shops and attractions during the summer. Their experience gives them a better image and deeper understanding of America, which they take back to their home countries. This often translates to future visits to the U.S. with family and friends, which mean more international travel spending, which means American jobs.

They also stimulate local economies by spending money on living expenses, travel, shopping, eating and more. In fact, new research estimates that J-1 visa holders in the Summer Work Travel program alone contribute more than $500 million to the economy each year. 

More immediately, though, J-1 visa workers help American businesses succeed, and actually protect the jobs of year-round, American workers.

For example: winter at ski resorts and summer at national parks are like the holiday season for retailers. Demand spikes, and they need more help than usual. However, unlike retailers, ski resorts and national parks often have a very limited pool of local labor from which to draw. The labor shortage issue is being greatly exacerbated by record-low unemployment, with 50 percent of U.S. regions hovering under 4 percent.

Americans in the communities where these attractions are based need full-time, year-round work, so are not well-suited for these seasonal jobs. If the number of J-1 visa participants were cut, ski resorts, national parks concessionaires, local attractions, hotels and other travel businesses would be forced to cut back as well—on their operating hours, on the number of local workers they can hire full-time, and the number of travelers they can accommodate.

The Trump administration’s stated goals of creating American jobs and bolstering our global competitiveness are worthy and should be pursued with all available means. However, ending or curtailing the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program will hinder these aims, not further them. That’s why a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in both the House  and Senate are working to highlight the economic benefits of the program, and the need to preserve it.

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program sustains local attractions, which nourish local economies and job markets. The Trump administration should look to the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program as a tool to support communities in every corner of the country, and to advance President Trump’s economic agenda.