At a time when even our closest allies view the U.S. in an overwhelmingly negative light, it is deeply troubling that an entire category of public diplomacy programs is facing elimination.
According to news reports, the Trump administration is currently working to end the U.S. Department of State’s J-1 Exchange Visitor Programs – including Summer Work Travel, Camp Counselor, Intern/Trainee, and Au Pair programs – which bring university students and others from abroad to the U.S. to study, work, and travel. While in America, these young people have the opportunity to improve their English skills, learn about American ways of life, share their culture with host communities, and supplement the American workforce during peak business seasons.
These privately funded cultural exchange programs are a key tool of U.S. foreign policy that serve to build greater understanding of the American people, culture, and values around the world. They are not pathways for immigration or labor programs, and the notion that they undermine the interests of U.S. workers is woefully misguided.
Simply stated, eliminating J-1 programs would cause significant harm to our nation’s public diplomacy efforts as well as to the American economy. In Maine alone, where CIEE is headquartered and employs more than 200 people to facilitate these programs, local communities host 4,000 J-1 Exchange Visitors annually, mostly staffing our seasonal tourist businesses and our summer camps. Many of these businesses would be devastated by the loss of these programs, and just as was the case this year with the drop in H2B workers, they would not be able to fill those jobs with local Mainers. Summer camps in Maine would likely see revenues drop by 20%, and many hotels and restaurants would reduce working hours significantly.
The Trump administration’s intent to bypass the democratic process in eliminating the J-1 program is disturbing. Any changes to programs whose fundamental goals are to improve U.S. diplomacy and support the American economy deserve a thoughtful process involving all branches of government. Additionally, the voice of the American people must be considered when changes to policy – especially of this magnitude – are on the table.
As a non-profit organization that for 70 years has been committed to nurturing peace through international exchange, we at CIEE believe that building mutual understanding between Americans and people of other nations makes us all stronger, safer, and more prosperous.
Over the past several months, we have been actively working with members of the international exchange community to engage with Congress and the Trump administration in support of J-1 programs. CIEE will continue to work relentlessly to protect cross-cultural exchange and support our participants in the U.S. – and we need your help.
Here’s how you can make a difference and save these valuable J-1 programs:
- Call your representatives in Washington, D.C., and urge them to contact the White House to stop the elimination of these programs. Find phone numbers for your Members of Congress and use these talking points to make these incredibly important calls. Please encourage your family, friends, and colleagues to do the same.
- Ask your CEO or senior leaders at your workplace to call their personal contacts at the White House, Department of State, and Congress, or the general contacts below:
White House, Office of Public Liaison: (202) 456-6493
Department of State, Office of Secretary Tillerson: (202) 647-7234
- Join Americans for Cultural Exchange – a broad coalition in support of international exchange programs – and urge your representatives to take action.
Together, we can save these critical public diplomacy tools from a profoundly irresponsible approach to America’s foreign policy. Thank you for your support.