Senate Appropriations Committee Passes Amendment Aimed at Protecting the J1 Exchange Visitor Program
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.”