State Department Avoids the Question: Will There Be a Summer Work Travel Program?

By David North on April 24, 2020

Topic Page: Covid-19 and Immigration

In an earlier posting we asked if — given the 22 million or so newly unemployed Americans — the State Department still would be importing some 100,000 alien college students in its exploitative Summer Work Travel program.

This is a program for grunt work at summer resorts, carnivals, and sometimes factories, whose unattractive features were exposed several years ago by my colleague Jerry Kammer.

The State Department promptly replied to our questions with a blizzard of words, but did not answer them fully, including these:

  • Is the Department of State asking Exchange Visitor Program sponsors to suspend exchange programs for ALL exchange visitors from ALL countries for 60 days starting from March 12, 2020?

Although the Exchange Visitor Program is not specifically subject to the ECA-funded program suspension, ECA strongly recommends that all Exchange Visitor Program private sector program sponsors follow ECA COVID-19 guidance, including postponing ALL program start dates for 60 days after March 12, 2020. As the State Department has issued a Global Level 4 Travel Advisory, the suspension applies to ALL countries.

  • What visa services are currently available at U.S. embassies and consulates?

On March 20, 2020, U.S. embassies and consulates suspended all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa services. Routine visa services will resume as soon as possible, but a specific date at this time cannot be provided. Emergency visa services will still be available on a case-by-case basis.

ECA is the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs; it runs the various J-1 visa programs for exchange visitors.

I found this of particular interest:

Although the Exchange Visitor Program is not specifically subject to the ECA-funded program suspension, DCA strongly recommends ... postponing ALL program start dates for 60 days. [Emphasis added.]

In other words because no money changes hands between the State Department and the users of the summer workers it is not exercising its potential authority to modify or close down the program. The State Department does not need to fund the program — the low wages of the foreign students do that.

I feel some sympathy for the State Department officials, given the messy mix of signals they, and all of us, are getting from the White House; on one hand, immigrants, generally, will have their arrivals in the States delayed by 60 days, but no such rule will impact foreign worker programs. Despite expert advice, the president wants to open up the economy as soon as possible, and closing the summer exchange program would be an admission that things are not going well.

In any case, my sense is that the reduction of "routine" visa services may serve — unintentionally — to reduce the size of the Summer Work Travel program this year, simply because this is the time of the year when those interviews would normally be taking place. Some summer work visas may have been granted and these workers may or may not arrive. Further, it is always possible that they will become, in the eyes of the government, "essential" workers in the beachfront restaurants, carnivals, donut shops, hotels, retail stores, and other work sites where U.S. workers are certainly available.

Secretary Pompeo is missing a golden opportunity to open up 100,000 jobs for U.S. workers by, apparently, keeping this program alive.