War in Ukraine may lead to shortage of J-1 visa workers

Northeast

(NewsNation) — The war in Ukraine will have an impact on some of America’s favorite summer destinations: Vail, Martha’s Vineyard and the Jersey Shore because they all rely on the J-1 Summer Work Travel Visa Program.

The program offers opportunities for college kids abroad to come to America to work and travel during their summer vacation. For the students, it’s good life experience and a chance to brush up on practical English. For the businesses, it’s essential help at a crucial time of year.

Nearly 40,000 kids came to the U.S. last year, many from Russia and Ukraine. Now, this summer will be noticeably different.

Ocean City, New Jersey is the quintessential summer town with buzzing businesses like Playland’s Castaway Cove. The amusement park has operated for more than 60 years on the Jersey Shore.

“We’re an amusement park with 32 rides with miniature golf courses, go-karts and a Dairy Queen,” said Brian Hartley, vice president of Playland’s Castaway Cove.

He relies on the J-1 Summer Work Travel Visa Program to properly staff during peak tourism season in the summer. Hartley says he didn’t have any Russian students this past summer, but he has had students in the past from Ukraine and Russia.

Last year, 283 Russian and 82 Ukrainian J-1 Visa students came to the U.S. for summer jobs. About 2,000 students came to New Jersey, and Hartley says there are about 20 students on his staff every summer, filling a variety of roles from ride operators to concessions. The students allow businesses to stay open later and longer into the season.

Russia scrapped its J-1 program last year amid international tensions. The pandemic also drastically cut the number of students able to come over to the United States. Now, war at home complicates matters further.

“It’s not a pleasant scene over there. It’s really surreal,” Hartley said. “A lot of our other students come from eastern European countries. We do have students from Kosovo, Belarus, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Romania, so there’s concern about more widespread war.”

Places like Castaway Cove may have shorter hours or less staff this summer, but considering the circumstances, Hartley is more concerned with the students.

“I know a lot of kids, they come over for the experience of the U.S. and hopefully years to come, we’ll be able to take advantage of that situation. But for this year, they’ve got to take care of themselves. That’s priority number one,” he said.

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