Spirit CEO Speaks Out: J-1 Visa Program Under Review, Possible Elimination

J-1 Visa Program Under Review, Possible Elimination – via Door County Pulse

President Trump’s administration is reviewing the J-1 visa program for significant reductions, according to the Wall Street Journal. The program is being reviewed for its impact on the American workforce following the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order President Donald Trump signed in Kenosha on April 18.

The Wall Street Journal reported the State Department has been directed to rewrite regulations that would end the J-1 visa program, which includes the Summer Work Travel program used by many Door County businesses.

An estimated 440 students from abroad lived and worked in Door County this year. Local officials and visa sponsors believe the elimination of the program is misguided.

“It really is based on their misunderstanding that the J-1s are taking American jobs,” said Phil Berndt, membership director for the Door County Visitor Bureau. Berndt is also a liaison for local businesses taking part in the J-1 visa program and was able to listen into a conference call between business owners nationwide and Andrew Veprek, immigration adviser to Trump.

“Every single one of [the businesses], very clearly they demonstrated that they post the jobs and they aren’t getting any applicants for the positions,” Berndt said.

The “Buy American, Hire American” executive order signed by Trump called for a federal review of trade and immigration policies, including visa programs, to ensure they protect American companies and workers. Opponents to the visa programs believe they import a cheaper workforce, putting Americans out of jobs.

“The J-1 program exists not as a work program, it is a cultural exchange program,” said Richard Baader, CEO of the visa program sponsor company Spirit Cultural Exchange. “It’s effect on public diplomacy and national security… We change the hearts and minds of the future leaders of these other countries.”

According to Berndt, J-1 Summer Work Travel visas are regulated to ensure they are not taking these jobs away from American citizens.

J-1 visa applicants must prove they are enrolled in college and will be going back to school at the end of the season. If they wish to come back the following year, they must reapply. Other visas, such as the H-2B and H-1B, allow extensions of up to six years.

Baader said the program also ensures employers have a need for seasonal employment and have not laid off American workers in the past year.

“The whole program matches up with so many of the resorts who take advantage of the summer break,” Berndt said. “All of them fall within those key months of where you have peak need for employees.”

Brian Kelsey, managing director of Peninsula Players Theater and member of the Governor’s Council on Tourism, participated in a listening session with Congressman Mike Gallagher about tourism in general, but the J-1 conversation was one of the first topics of discussion.

“It was a group of us sharing how important the J-1 is and how it should not get wrapped into the other travel visas the administration is looking at,” said Kelsey. “[Gallagher] was very respectful and we definitely got the point across to him.”

Gallagher may be considered to join Travel and Tourism Caucus, a group of Congress members tasked with developing policies in support of tourism. He did not respond to a request for comment.

“The reality is that the Summer Work Travel program could be put out of business overnight with executive authority,” said Baader. “If you really understand the program, you would support it. Everyone would support it. We’re trying to get that communication out early so that well-intentioned people don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

On Aug. 8, a group of 17 U.S. Senators, including Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in support of the Summer Work Travel program.

“Many small businesses in our states are dependent on the program to meet their seasonal labor needs,” said the letter. “It is important to note that [Summer Work Travel] program regulations contain provisions to ensure that exchange visitors do not displace American workers.”

A report from Politico determined that for some business owners in the United States, the reduction of available H-2B visas, or those for seasonal workers who are not students, did result in more Americans being hired and an increase in wages.

Berndt expressed concern that elimination of the J-1 program could have the opposite effect.

“Without those students, we would have a tremendous loss of American jobs because of the businesses that would have to close,” said Berndt.


BREAKING: Senate Appropriations Committee Passes Amendment Aimed at Protecting the J1 Exchange Visitor Program

From the Alliance for International Exchange

Shows Support for the J1’s Positive Impact on American Diplomatic, Business, & Tourism Efforts
Committee Also Approves $634 Million to Fund Educational and Cultural Affairs Programs

Washington, DC (September 7, 2017)— Today the Senate Appropriations Committee approved language designed to ensure that any changes made to the J1 Exchange Visitor Program be done publically, in line with the full notice and comment requirements of the normal federal regulatory process. The amendment was co-sponsored by Senator Chris Coons, Ranking Member Patrick Leahy, and Senator Lisa Murkowksi. 

The Senate committee deemed it crucial to take this step based on threats from a small working group in the White House about changes, cuts, or complete elimination of a number of the J1 programs, including the Summer Work Travel (SWT), Intern, Trainee, Camp Counselor and Au Pair programs. This language requires a transparent process—which to date has not taken place. It is also sends a strong signal from Congress on their willingness to protect this valuable international exchange program.

“At a time when the world’s favorability rating of the United States hovers below 50 percent, cutting or dramatically changing a proven program that makes up the core of our nation’s people-to-people diplomacy seems extremely misguided,” said Ilir Zherka, Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange. “The Senate Committee’s vote today reflects deep bi-partisan support for these programs. Any change would be a setback to U.S. national security and diplomacy efforts—not to mention deal a devastating blow to seasonal communities that depend upon increased temporary employment to prosper.”

Started by the State Department in 1961, the J1 Exchange Visitor Program has brought students from overseas to the U.S. to learn English, study, get exposure to American culture and supplement the American workforce during peak business seasons, most notably in the hospitality and tourism sectors. Established with the goal of forging positive relationships across the globe, this privately-funded program works to build lasting alliances with the world’s business, diplomatic and academic leaders of tomorrow—at no cost to the tax-payer.

It is estimated, furthermore, that J1 visa holders in the Summer Work Travel program contribute more than $500 million to the economy each year through program fees, travel, housing and entertainment. Moreover, many businesses and sponsors of the J1 programs would have to lay off thousands of American workers if significant changes are made.

The Senate’s action ensures that the international exchange community and the U.S. businesses that rely on exchange visitors will have the opportunity to weigh in to a public process. The language also ensures Congress’ role in the conversation, requiring that the State Department consult with the appropriations and authorizing committees before moving forward.

The Appropriations Committee also approved $634 million for Educational and Cultural Exchanges, an amount equal to fiscal year 2017 and $349 million above the budget requested by the administration. It is also nearly the highest level ever appropriated for exchanges.

“ECA funds and oversees a wide range of critical international exchange programs which enable people-to-people diplomacy and promote U.S. national security and foreign policy interests,” said Zherka. “We’re grateful to Chairmen Cochran and Graham, Ranking Member Leahy, and members of the Senate Appropriations Committee for standing with us and funding educational and cultural exchange programs for fiscal year 2018.”

The final amendment language as passed by the Committee today is below:

“EXCHANGE VISITOR PROGRAM.—None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to modify the Exchange Visitor Program administered by the Department of State to implement the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, as amended (Public Law 87-256, 22 U.S.C. 2451, et seq.), except through a formal rulemaking process pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act and notwithstanding the exceptions to such rulemaking process in such Act: Provided, That funds made available for such purpose shall only be made available after consultation with, and subject to the regular notification procedures of, the Committees on Appropriations, regarding how any proposed modification would affect the public diplomacy goals of, and the estimated economic impact on, the United States.”


New Study Confirms Positive Diplomatic and Economic Impact of Summer Work Travel

A just-released study from the research firm Eureka Facts shows that the J-1  Summer Work Travel (SWT) programs delivers significant benefits to the U.S. in terms of public diplomacy and economic contributions.

This extensive assessment found that SWT participants leave the program with higher regard and understanding of the United States while making lasting friendships with Americans they met. The program also helps keep local, seasonal economies strong, meeting the unique needs of small, seasonal businesses. Participants in the SWT program also contributed more than $500 million to the U.S. economy in 2016 via the money they spent in the country.



Calling All Distinguished Alumni

For our 15th anniversary in 2017, Spirit Cultural Exchange wants to recognize exceptional alumni with our first Alumni Awards.

We want to know how the J1 Work and Travel experience here in the United States impacted their life. Applicants will answer the two following questions as part of their entry:

  • Describe your professional or academic career including significant involvement in community organizations, government or non-government organizations, or charities.  Feel free to cut and paste the information from your CV.
  • How has your experience in the United States on the Summer Work and Travel program affected your life?

Spirit Cultural Exchange will select 10 finalists whose story will be featured on our website and highlighted with the U.S. Department of State as model alumni. They will also receive a $150 Visa gift card for travel or cultural experiences such as:

  • concert tickets
  • airline vouchers
  • hotel nights
  • tune-up English classes
  • 2-year membership to Internations networking organization

​One Grand Prize winner will be selected from the finalists. Depending on their situation they will receive either:

  • $2000 personal business grant for marketing campaigns
  • $2000 donation to their NGO or charity
  • FREE 6-12 month Spirit J1 Internship Program sponsorship, insurance, visa fees (valued at over $2000)
  • $2000 towards attendance at leadership conference such as IYLC ($1650 conference fee + up to $350 flight)

Spirit understands that exchange programs can be life-changing experiences for young adults and we look forward to celebrating the impact the program has on our alumni.

Click here to enter.


Save Our Summer

International students have visited our communities for years. Learning our culture. Working in your businesses. Becoming our friends.

Now, the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program is under attack.

Some in the government don’t consider Summer Work Travel a valuable cultural exchange program. They believe that SWT students take away American jobs. These government officials want to make changes to SWT that could severely damage it, and ultimately make it unworkable.

They don’t know how much you and your guests value the diversity and international perspective SWT students bring. They don’t know how hard you try to find Americans for your seasonal jobs, and how important SWT students are to keeping your American employees working year-round. They also don’t understand that raising your costs won’t just mean you raise prices – it likely means you would need to cut back on your services and hours, or just shut your doors.

We need to tell the government about these realities, and we need your help to do it.

The Americans for Cultural Exchange coalition – coordinated by the Alliance for International Exchange – is launching the #SaveOurSummer campaign so we can make our voices heard.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Write your US Congressional Representatives. This will only take a minute as the letter is pre-written and you can send as is.

2. Call your Representative and Senators. We’re providing talking points to help you make your case – click here to make calls.

3. Sign our petition in support of Summer Work Travel. We give a copy of this petition, with every signer arranged by state, to every Representative, Senator, and government official we meet. You can sign the petition by clicking here.

4. Participate in the #SaveOurSummer social media campaign. Check out all the social media tools and recommendations here, and start posting #SaveOurSummer on all your social media sites. Also, encourage your SWT students to join this campaign.

Now is the time to act, during summer vacation, when Members of Congress are back in your hometown, and your Summer Work Travel participants are here. Let’s #SaveOurSummer.


Congratulations to our 1st Instagram Winner!

"This is how I got here, I flew through Alaska!!! I luckily got a good shot of the morning sunlight reflecting with the mountain and it somehow turned to pink ice mountain. It is one of my favorite picture so far since I have started my work and travel journey." 

Kittiphong P., Wisconsin Dells


New videos introduce Spirit’s Internship Program!

Spirit is excited to premiere new videos showcasing our Independent and Premium Internship Programs.

These new videos will help you learn more about the high quality programs offered by Spirit for students, recent graduates, and professionals in a variety of fields. Not only will you learn more about the program, but also why Spirit should be your sponsor of choice!

If you are interested in applying for Spirit’s Internship program, please contact

Click here to view the video for Spirit's Independent Internship Program!

Click here to view the video for Spirit's Premium Internship Program!


Spirit CEO responds to President Trump’s proposed budget cuts

Spirit co-founder and CEO, Rich Baader, has written a response to the proposed budget cuts released today by the Trump Administration. The cuts to the Department of State, which oversees the J-1 exchange program, are unprecedented, but it may not affect the Work and Travel, Internship, and Trainee Programs.

Click here to read more. 


Spirit CEO discusses the USA election and its impact on Spirit’s exchange programs

Please click here to read a statement by Spirit Cultural Exchange CEO Richard Baader regarding the 2016 USA presidential election. 


Spirit Staff Attends John Kerry Speech

Spirit Cultural Exchange members recently attended an event to hear Secretary of State John Kerry speak. To learn more, please visit our blog