On June 22, the White House issued a proclamation suspending some nonimmigrant visas, including certain categories of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program. This means that international exchange programs which invite people from around the world to visit and live in cities throughout the United States as a way to build international cooperation are all on hold; as it stands, for the rest of 2020.
In the midst of a global pandemic – arguably when international exchange and dialogue is the most needed – this is one more way that the future of the United States role in global collaboration is under threat.
This proclamation essentially suspended non-immigrant visas that have covered au pairs, camp counselors, interns and trainees, summer work travelers, and teachers. The President’s reasoning for this move was simple: by preventing skilled foreign workers and nonimmigrant workers from entering the country, more jobs would be made available to Americans. Such logic ignores the facts of international exchange and immigration. As the Alliance for International Exchange points out, foreign workers “do not displace American workers, and, in fact, contribute more than $1.2 billion to the United States economy.” What’s more, many international exchange participants actually return to their home countries to become community leaders and changemakers with more positive opinions of the United States. While the initial draft of this proclamation does not include the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the move to block any international exchange programs will still threaten America’s ability to engage our world through exchange and cultural understanding.
Should more laws pass that would threaten the state of international exchange, our country will face some dire consequences. From a purely numbers-based perspective, there are tremendous economic advantages to hosting international visitors across the United States.
In Kansas, 380,400 jobs were supported by international trade in 2017, representing 19.8% of all jobs in the state. Kansas exported $11.6 billion in goods to foreign markets in 2018.
During 2018, 9,571 international students were enrolled in Kansas colleges and universities and contributed $260 million to the Kansas economy.
In 2018, Missouri exported over $14 billion worth of goods to foreign markets, benefiting more than 6,000 Missouri companies — of which 85% are small and medium sized businesses. Overall, international trade supports more than 760,000 jobs in the state.
During 2018, 23,014 international students were enrolled in Missouri colleges and universities and contributed $627 million to the Missouri economy.
Across the country, the International Visitor Leadership Program alone leads to over 245,000 cross-cultural activities between these J-1 visitors and Americans. It is through exchange programs, international travel, and the programs made possible by H and J visas that current and future business leaders across the globe build ties with Americans. These ties lead to international trade, economic growth, and long-standing connections that put the Midwest to the front of leaders’ minds when making decisions on where they or friends or family might choose to study abroad.
Beyond numbers and economic gain, exchange programs provide an immeasurable impact in terms of forging global friendships. Exchanges teach Americans how to become global citizens equipped with the skills necessary to succeed in an increasingly connected world. By hosting international guests for dinner or even meeting with international counterparts to discuss best practices, individuals throughout the world learn how to be open-minded to new ways of doing things. They sharpen their cross-cultural communication and competency skills. They discover innovative ways to collaborate in order to bring about change in communities throughout the world. Indeed, the pandemic has already demonstrated the value of exchange and cooperation, and these skills will be even more necessary in the coming decades. Americans should not be left behind.
Perhaps most importantly, absent international exchange, America will be less prepared to help solve global issues as they arise. Although news coverage has recently tended towards COVID-19 statistics, there are still pressing international crises that demand our attention: climate change, class conflict, discrimination, famine, poverty, war, and more. These issues will not have disappeared when the pandemic is a mere memory. Rather, these ills will likely be exacerbated in the coming years. Global Ties KC believes that Americans (and everyone around the world for that matter) have the moral imperative to contribute to world prosperity and peace whenever possible. That means mobilizing our resources for good and partnering with other countries to make productive policy changes. In order to do that, however, the United States must continue to strengthen global links. We must have a comprehensive understanding of the world around us and the nature of these great challenges. What better way to gain such an understanding than through international exchange, and through direct conversations with members of our global community? By slashing budgets for exchange, we take away our greatest tool in global governance and diplomacy: honest conversations and experiences with international counterparts.
Fortunately, there are direct steps that we can all take to advocate on behalf of international exchange. Indeed, acting now is imperative, as we have entered the proclamation’s 30-day review period to get a reversal of J-1 visa inclusion (as well as other visa categories), or to include substantial changes in the order. One step to take is having coalition letters amongst CBMS signed and sent off to D.C. As well, constituents can write letters or emails to their Representatives and Senators, urging them to reconsider the J-1 Visa inclusion in the proclamation. Finally, engaging with social or traditional media is another terrific option to advocate on behalf of international exchange. Sharing stories about why exchange matters on your social media platforms, or even writing a letter to the editor in your local newspaper, can help encourage others in your community to act now. No matter how you may choose to advocate for exchange, consider making the case to your legislator or community that cultural exchange matters, that it boosts the American economy, that it is vital to our foreign policy, and that it is essential to our ability to have a mutual understanding across cultures. Please contact us at Global Ties KC for any questions or additional inquiries about how we can assist you in your advocacy.