International student workers aren’t stealing Americans’ jobs and a reduction of the summer work visa program could have a dire impact on Myrtle Beach businesses.
That’s the conclusion of the National Immigration Forum, which released its policy paper on the J-1 Visa Program this week during a community discussion at Seacoast Vineyard Church in Myrtle Beach.
The D.C.-based nonprofit organization, formed to advocate for immigrants in America, concluded from its study that the J-1 visa recipients help businesses fill seasonal work needs, and young Americans, who would traditionally be considered for these jobs, are showing more interest in pursuing college credits and internships instead.
The study was commenced, according to the paper, in response to recent calls by President Donald Trump’s administration to review the program due to concerns that exchange visitors displace young Americans from summer jobs.
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More than 3,000 international students come to Horry County through the J-1 visa program each year, according to the federal Department of State, which oversees the program.
While the program contains 15 different visa categories, including research scholars, camp counselors and au pairs, more than 98 percent of those in the Myrtle Beach area are in the Summer Work Travel category, which allows students to work for 90 days and travel for 30 days before the visa expires.
Supporting its conclusions, the organization’s paper notes that the percentage of unemployed teens who say they want a job has decreased from 20 percent in 1994 to 9-10 percent today, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meanwhile, a survey commissioned by an organization that oversees sponsors through the J-1 program found that more than 87 percent of employers responded that their business would be negatively impacted without the international students, with some even noting that it could result in laying off American employees in non-seasonal positions.
Kelly Guyton, hired by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce this year to serve as a community liaison for the students, said during the forum that she didn’t know more than a handful of businesses in the area that didn’t hire J-1 students during the summer.
“I can’t imagine how our community would survive without them,” she said, adding that restaurants in particular would struggle to maintain their operating hours.
Zuzana Cepla, a policy and advocacy associate for National Immigration Forum, lauded the Myrtle Beach community for coming together to welcome J-1 students.
Seacoast Church hosts weekly orientations and gatherings for the students during the summer, reaching about 1,300 students this year from more than 40 countries thanks to about 450 volunteers, according to organizer Christy Morris.
Myrtle Beach Police Sgt. Allen Amick said the increase in community involvement during the past few years has helped lead to a significant drop in crimes reported against J-1 students.
“I remember years when kids were getting robbed every night,” he said, noting that police use orientation to teach students safety tips.
David Weissman: @WeissmanMBO; 843-626-0305