Twice in a matter of months, the ethos of our industry has been rattled by a political debacle. With a shift in power at the White House looming, it is safe to say that the majority of us are now questioning and feeling very concerned about what the future holds for the J1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program (J-1 EVP) and the impact President-elect Trump’s impending immigration policy will have on the global cultural exchange industry.
Global youth travel accounts for 23% of international arrivals each year – more than 270 million travellers in 2015, generating USD 283 billion in international tourism receipts. In turn, the J-1 EVP brings over 300,000 foreign citizens from over 200 countries to the United States annually to teach, study, develop their professional skills, strengthen their English language abilities, connect with Americans and learn more about the United States.
The J-1 EVP as an international education and cultural exchange platform has played a key role within the United States foreign relations agenda for a significant period, with the US Department of State maintaining the position that people-to-people connections provide immense opportunities for both young Americans and their international peers.
However, during Trump’s divisive election campaign, his vision was made clear when he revealed in a policy document entitled, Immigration reform that will make America great again, that “real immigration reform puts the needs of working people first—not wealthy globetrotting donors.” We are the only country in the world whose immigration system puts the needs of other nations ahead of our own.”
To much disbelief, his blueprint further outlined that “the J-1 visa jobs program for foreign youth will be terminated and replaced with a resume bank for inner city youth provided to all corporate subscribers to the J-1 visa program.”
In the wake of the US presidential election, this vision now has the potential to materialize, striding alongside the aftermath of ‘Brexit’. The burning question is: What will the impact of these two political shifts have on the freedom of movement across the globe, the very foundation and livelihood of our industry?
It is now more important than ever for the global youth travel industry to unite and strengthen its stance and demand on policy-makers to move forward, not backward, and to liberalise, not restrict, bi-lateral immigration frameworks that will fuel long-term growth of cultural exchange programmes.