Summer Work Program Possibly In Jeopardy, Business Leaders Rally - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

Summer Work Program Possibly In Jeopardy, Business Leaders Rally

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OCEAN CITY, Md. - Tuesday, members of the US Senate voted to begin debate on proposed immigration reform legislation, which means there is still a ways to go before a Senate vote, but already, businesses leaders across Delmarva have concerns about how this bill could hurt business here on the Shore.  

From restaurants, to amusement parks, and shops lining the boardwalk -- thousands of foreign student workers flock to these establishments in towns like Ocean City for the summer, but if a new immigration reform bill passes, some worry about what it means for the local economy.

In late May, the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce sent emails to area businesses, warning them of possible changes to a student work visa program many businesses in the resort town rely on for summer workers. 

"We're looking at over 3000 workers that we will not have in the future," says Melanie Pursel, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce.

Business leaders say the end of this cultural exchange program can be found tucked inside the more than eight hundred pages of the Senate proposal.

"Some of the provisions in the bill actually would eliminate the J-1 Work Travel Program," says Pursel.

In its current form, if the immigration bill passes, the student workers would be redefined as migrant workers.  The companies sponsoring sometimes thousands of foreign students at a time would have to pay the government $500 per student, and eliminates the ability of program providers to collect fees for services like obtaining visas, securing affordable housing, and paying for cultural enrichment activities, a vital portion of the J-1 Work Travel Program.

"It would suck [if the program were eliminated] because a lot of people wouldn't have many people to work for them because not a lot of people are willing to come here and work their butts off," says Heidi Alsangak, a store manager at one of the dozens of clothing shops along the Ocean City Boardwalk.

The new legislation, now up for debate, may not take effect until October 2014, business leaders worry sponsors would close down even before the legislation takes effect, eliminating the summer cultural exchange program as soon as next summer.

The Ocean City Chamber says they are working with legislators and collecting testimonials in an effort to persuade Congress to keep the J-1 Summer Work program.

The Senate reportedly hopes to pass its immigration bill by July 4th.



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