More than 3,000 international students come to the Grand Strand each summer to work under the U.S. Department of State’s J-1 visa program. Here are some answers to common questions locals may have about these students and the program:
What is the J-1 visa program?
The U.S. Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program allows international students, mostly under the age of 30, to come to the U.S. on a temporary visa to work or study under one of 15 categories, including research scholars, camp counselors and au pairs. More than 98 percent of those in the Myrtle Beach area through the J-1 program each year are in the Summer Work Travel category, which allows students to work for 90 days and travel for 30 days before the visa expires.
The department bills the program as a cultural exchange aimed at allowing participants to engage with Americans, strengthen their English language abilities and learn skills that will help in their future careers.
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Where are the students coming from?
According to the department’s latest available statistics (2016-17), Jamaica, Russia and China are among the countries that send the most students to Myrtle Beach through the J-1 program. Here is a table of the complete statistics:
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||9||8|
Where are they working?
The department does not provide information on the specific jobs of J-1 Summer Work Travel participants, but it does have have a list of jobs that participants are prohibited from including any position in the adult entertainment industry, positions involving gambling and positions requiring a drivers license.
In the Grand Strand, J-1 students are often found working as lifeguards, housekeepers, amusement park ride operators and restaurant servers. Employers are not required to pay overtime to seasonal workers, but some employers still do.
What’s the process for them to get here?
The department designates more than 1,500 organizations within the U.S. to serve as sponsors for the program. Students wishing to participate in the program must apply through one of these sponsors, which serve as the student’s main point of contact throughout the entire process.
Different sponsors have different steps that students must take to be accepted into the program. Promthida Rerkchavee and Witsarut Vardkien, two students from Thailand working in Myrtle Beach this summer, said they applied through their school and got to choose their sponsor organization. They then took an English competency exam to determine what jobs they would be eligible for, they said.
After paying a registration fee, they were allowed to see which jobs were available, and apply to one that piqued their interest. Rerkchavee said a representative from the company then interviewed her through video chat before offering her the job. Some sponsors will then help students find acceptable housing, while others will leave that responsibility solely to the students.