CIEE's Response to the Presidential Proclamation Suspending Work-based Visa Programs

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CIEE believes that the presidential proclamation President Trump signed on Monday, June 22, 2020, suspending several work-based visa programs until at least the end of 2020 is short-sighted and ultimately damaging to America’s economy, national identity, and our ability to build peaceful relationships with our neighbors. In short, President Trump’s proclamation will continue to diminish our standing on the world stage and will reduce our national security. 

In the words of Senator Fulbright, “no activity can turn nations into people,” as much as international exchange, contributing “as no other form of communication can to the humanizing of international relations.”  For nearly 75 years, the mission of the nonprofit Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) has been to advance global peace and harmony by providing opportunities for people from across the world to live in, embrace, and learn from another culture.

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, which includes Summer Work Travel, Camp Counselor, Intern, Trainee, and Au Pair programs, is part of the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961 and has been managed as a critical public diplomacy program for 60 years by the Department of State. It helps U.S. businesses by supplementing the American workforce with bright, curious, international students and young professionals who, in most cases, are having their first experience of the United States. By allowing international students to learn firsthand about American values and ideals, the Exchange Visitor Program builds bridges between the United States and countries around the world, exactly as Sen. Fulbright envisioned when the program was crafted over 60 years ago with enthusiastic bi-partisan support.

The Exchange Visitor Program is a brilliantly designed, win-win program that advances our national security interests by promoting American values, democracy, freedom of speech, and the rule of law, even as it helps expand the U.S. economy. Funded not by American taxpayers, but paid for primarily by our foreign visitors, the public diplomacy program is proven to enhance America’s image and reputation in the world, at the same time it provides critical seasonal staffing that leads to higher profits for U.S. businesses and ultimately the hiring of more U.S. workers.

CIEE was founded in 1947 in the shadow of World War II to help the world heal by bringing young people together for the purpose of overcoming ignorance and mistrust. Troop ships that had been sailing back to Europe empty after U.S. soldiers returned home, were used to transport American college students abroad for people-to-people international exchange experiences with critical countries.  Today, countries who were once our deepest adversaries, are now among our best allies – Germany, Italy, and Japan. Relationships that these young people forged were critical in restoring bonds between nations in a world that had been ripped apart.

The crippling challenge of COVID-19 demonstrates our current need to foster global cooperation, collaboration, and trust. In today’s interconnected world, America cannot abandon efforts to build positive and mutually supportive connections with our neighbors.

President Trump’s proclamation is largely symbolic, with little practical impact for average Americans. The pandemic, resulting travel restrictions, and global economic decline means very few Exchange Visitors will be able to visit the U.S. through the end of 2020. However, we fully expect that soon our world will heal, our economy will rebound, and international travel will resume. When it does, the United States will need the Exchange Visitor Program to continue forging positive relationships with future international leaders.

CIEE urges our nation’s leaders to resist debilitating isolationist policies – like those that followed World War I and, according to many experts, contributed to World War II  – that President Trump’s proclamation might foreshadow. Our nation’s elected officials at all levels of government must step up and resist the call for America to turn inward and retreat from its critical posture of global leadership, lest we face once again the dangerous consequences of building walls that separate us from our neighbors.

CIEE calls on our leaders across America to safeguard the J1 Exchange Visitor Program and the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961 in order to advance the complementary goals of supporting the needs of American businesses, supporting international exchange and the soft-power of international diplomacy, and supporting the export of American values by inviting the world to towns and communities across our country where democracy and freedoms flourish.

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