WILDWOOD — About 500 students from around the world will converge at Morey’s Piers this summer, working alongside Americans and helping the business fill many amusement park jobs such as manning the bumper-car ride.
These students make up just a portion of the more than 4,700 foreign students who come to New Jersey through the U.S. State Department’s Summer Work Travel program.
This J-1 visa program allows college students to live and work in a community for three months and travel for about one month before returning home.
Although President Donald Trump expressed a desire to terminate the J-1 visa program during the presidential campaign, those involved say his current policies reflect no intent to dismantle the program.
“There’s been nothing from the White House that’s changed anything. So as of now there’s nothing to be concerned about,” said Denise Beckson, director of operations and human resources at Morey’s.
Meghann Curtis, of CIEE, a federally approved sponsor organization, said the students all have to go home, so it’s “not an immigration program.”
“It’s a really successful public diplomacy program,” she said.
Sam Albarico and Grace Del Corro, both of the Philippines, were some of more than 20 students working at Morey’s as it opened for the season.
Del Corro, 21, will be manning Sunny’s Lookout Lighthouse. She said she wanted to use her U.S. experiences to help with future employment.
Albarico, 20, who is assigned to the mini-scooters, said he considers himself lucky to be able to visit the U.S.
Students from the J-1 visa program make up one-third of Morey’s Piers’ seasonal workforce, Beckson said.
The program “supplements our seasonal workforce, especially during times when American kids are in school,” Beckson said.
Cape May County is a hub for seasonal businesses. For these employers, finding American workers at minimum wage to work a few months leaves few options.
At peak summer season in 2016, there were more than 2,800 Summer Work Travel students employed in Cape May County. Wildwood gets the majority of the J-1 students, according to data from the State Department.
Beckson said the number of J-1 students needed by Morey’s changes with the economy.
“When we had a recession in the late 2000s, we had more American applicants,” she said. “Now that the economy is doing better, we have less American applicants.”
Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, said that with a year-round population of about 90,000, Cape May County does not have the workforce to sustain summer demand.
Curtis, executive vice president of the International Exchange Programs, said CIEE helps thousands of students travel to America each year through the J-1 visa program.
Last year, CIEE sponsored 1,251 students at 132 employers in Cape May County, an increase from 1,019 students and 107 employers in 2015.
“The demand has continued to be strong,” Curtis said.