Potential J-1 Visa cut worries local business owners

By  | 

The J-1 Summer Work Travel program allows young foreign students to live and work in the U.S. during their summer vacation from college or university.

The current administration plans to make reductions to that J-1 visa sector as early as the beginning of September. According to the State Department's visa site, the J-1 program currently provides opportunities for around 300,000 foreign visitors from over 200 countries and territories per year "to experience U.S. society and culture and engage with Americans."

Some of those visitors are working at the Howard Johnson whose owner says for his Rapid City location, he's not so much worried, but at his hotels in a small place like Keystone, the reduction causes for major concern.

Tim Johnson says, "There's a misconception out there that you hire the J-1 program to save money and not hire locals and pay a lower wage which quite frankly isn't the case. Like I said, we're paying 40-60% above minimum wage just to try and pull in locals and get them to work."

One visitor says she is here in the U.S. to do just that and more.

"This is my last year in University so I was planning to use my last opportunity to participate in this program to be a J-1 student for maybe one last time, to come back here to know more and when I heard about it, that maybe my dreams can be ruined because of that, I was devastated.

For the Wall Drug Store in Wall, the cuts could make even more of an impact. Out of 200 staff members, the owner says 70 of the store's workers are J-1 visa students during the summer.

Rick Hustead says, "If we lost that many summer employees, it would be devastating and catastrophic not only for us but for the community of Wall because alot of our J-1 students work full time for us and then part time for other summer businesses and other businesses in town."