For Stephen Murphy, a J-1 student from Ireland, it was a summer to remember.
Murphy, along with 3,000 other international college students, came to the Grand Strand to work a job for the summer and experience the U.S. before graduating college.
“Just waking up every morning and going down to the beach, dipping in, having a swim, having a surf, whatever, and then going off to work” is how Murphy described his summer in Myrtle Beach.
While J-1 student visa workers come over for a summer filled with new experiences, they also help to fill crucial jobs during peak tourist season.
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“With tourism and record unemployment rates, these students are valuable to our community,” Stephen Greene, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Hospitality Association, said. “J-1s have been very important to supplement our workforce and meet the demands of the workforce.”
Because of the higher demand, local businesses rely on foreign applicants to help their businesses run throughout the summer.
Mitch Bopp, manager at Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures, said J-1 students make up most of the staff. During the 2017 season, the park hired 16 J-1 students and seven local workers, including managers.
“A bunch of Irish live across the street,” Bopp said. “It’s easy access for them without cars.”
According to Bopp, they do not receive many applications from local workers to work at the zip line in the summer months.
Jeremiah Holloman, from Little River, who works for the city of North Myrtle Beach setting up chairs and umbrellas along the beach, said the city hires about 60 percent J-1 workers.
During the summer months the unemployment rate is lower among United States citizens due to the higher availability of jobs.
Throughout June and July, the unemployment rate for South Carolina remained at 3.9 percent, according to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.
“We have a lower unemployment rate during the season and a higher need for workers,” Greene said.
According to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor, 53.2 percent of youth were employed in July.
“This summer, the youth labor force grew by 2.6 million, or 12.4 percent, to a total of 23.1 million in July,” the report states.
Working toward a goal
For many international students coming to the Grand Strand over the summer, the goal is to earn enough to travel in hopes of experiencing more of what America has to offer before heading home.
For the most part, that’s what they get to do.
“Everyone comes over with that idea of a bit of fun, party as much as we can and at the end save enough to make sure you can get across and see the sights and see what we see on TV at home,” Murphy said.
With various jobs across the Grand Strand, J-1 students can dictate the extent of their travel based on how much they want to work.
Lifeguards tend to work seven days a week, beginning work around 7:30 a.m. and ending around 6 p.m. each day.
“In the beginning it was hard,” Andrea Masloyar, a Croatian lifeguard, said. “Then you get used to it. I can’t imagine working anywhere else. Lifeguards are like family. We just help each other.”
For other J-1 workers it’s a different story.
“I came for the beach, the sand, the pool, the music, the sun,” Patrick Burke, an Irish J-1 student who works at Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures, said. “We don’t get any of that at home. I wanted to get a tan as well. I walk out of what is my bedroom and then I have like 15, 20 friends, and they always want to have fun.”
With the season winding down, many are now shifting their focus to traveling to popular destinations such as Washington D.C., Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“I would come here again,” Masloyar said. “It feels like home.”