Labor Day weekend brings the unofficial end of summer – and for some the best time of the year down the Shore, with nice weather and smaller crowds.

But the hospitality industry worries that future ‘shoulder seasons’ – the time before Memorial Day and after Labor Day that’s an increasingly important part of the Shore’s tourism calendar – may be hampered, perhaps significantly, by a change in cultural-exchange work visas being considered.

As a candidate, Donald Trump pledged to abolish J-1 visas, which are used nationally by around 300,000 foreign visitors a year, including around 101,000 who worked seasonal jobs like those at the Jersey Shore. Around 5,300 of the seasonal workers were in New Jersey.

The Trump administration is considering major cuts to J-1 visas, used by around 300,000 foreign visitors a year, including more than 5,000 seasonal workers in New Jersey last year. They come to America to work for two to three months, then travel for a month before returning home.

Marilou Halverson of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association was among those on a conference call Wednesday with the White House imploring it not to make major changes.

“It’s very important. And as I say, and I’m not trying to be too reactionary, but without this program, many seasonal businesses would not be able to open or their hours would be severely cut,” Halverson said. “And that would definitely impact not just the American workers that are employed there, but it would also impact the economy, and it would impact secondary businesses that supply to these businesses.”

Shore businesses that rely on teachers and students to work at the height of summer can’t in spring and fall, so many turn to J-1 seasonal workers.

“Basically every Shore town has some population of J-1 visas,” said Halverson, who said Six Flags Great Adventure and ski slopes like Mountain Creek also use foreign seasonal workers.

“When you have traditionally a very short season of Memorial Day to Labor Day, and you have some rainy weekends in there, you have, what, eight, 10 weeks to really do 80 percent of your business,” she said. “These other shoulder seasons are very important. That can really help a business either make or break them. And if they can’t open, then there’s a good chance it could break them.”

Halverson was among roughly 100 business officials on a conference call with the White House about the potential cuts Wednesday.

The visas cover a wide range of categories, including professors and research scholars, students, teachers, specialists, doctors, camp counselors, au pairs and seasonal or temporary jobs.

In New Jersey last year, the most recent for which data is available, there were 10,642 participants, including 5,371 here for summer work travel. It also included 1,623 au pairs, almost 1,000 students, 857 scholars and 755 camp counselors.

The Wall Street Journal reports the Trump administration is considering cuts to the employment-based categories but not the educational ones.

Only eight states had more participants than New Jersey’s 10,642 in 2016: California, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. Among seasonal workers, New Jersey ranked seventh.
Halverson said that when the unemployment rate is low, currently 4.2 percent, there aren’t enough applicants for seasonal work.

“This is not impacting American jobs. My members would love to hire American citizens first. The problem is that when you have a very low unemployment rate and specifically for seasonal jobs, there’s not enough applicants to fill these jobs,” Halverson said.

She also said it’s not an immigration issue.

“These students are coming here, they’re working for a specific period of time. They’re traveling around the country for a month,” Halverson said. “And then they return because often they’re college students or they’re young professionals. I’ve seen examples of marine biologists, vets, doctors, lawyers. And so they come here and then they return. They’re not coming and staying.”

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