Trump urged to re-open J-1 exchange programs for soft power benefits

In a letter the former US governmental representatives abroad said they opposed the proclamation and called the administration to review it, praising the soft power benefits international exchange programs offer.

“Exchange programs should be exempt from the proclamation”

“We have seen first-hand the important role that international exchange programs play in our nation’s diplomatic efforts,” the 43 former ambassadors – previously stationed in countries including Russia, Somalia, Argentina, Afghanistan and many more – wrote.

“Exchange programs should be exempt from the proclamation given their role in supporting our diplomatic and national security efforts, in addition to their economic benefits.”

Exchange Visitor Programs enhance US national security and prosperity by “building productive partnerships, mutual understanding, and personal connections that help us address critical international issues while strengthening the US economy”, it added.

As well as fostering positive opinions of the US, the “understanding and affinity” for the US participants gain during their programs, supports the country’s “diplomatic efforts worldwide, especially in countries that are critical to national security”, the signees said.

The letter also highlighted the importance of the programs helping position Americans to be competitive and succeed in a connected economy by “equipping them with foreign language skills and cultural awareness”.

“American hosts of Exchange Visitor Program participants develop a familiarity with a different culture and language, which can benefit them professionally in the future.

“Moreover, J-1 cultural exchange programs contribute more than $1.4 billion to the American economy each year,” the letter read.

“This an important development as the diplomats know the values of our soft power, public diplomacy efforts which are embodied by the long-standing J-1 cultural exchange programs,” cultural exchange and educational provider AIFS president and CEO Bill Gertz told The PIE News.

“The continuation of these programs is a crucial component of our efforts to provide peace and understanding between nations and citizens. The ambassadors understand this and have lent their names to the effort.”

The June proclamation was originally announced in a bid to “protect” American workers as a result of coronavirus-related unemployment.

A joint lawsuit has been filed to challenged the entirety of Trump’s June proclamation, featuring sister organisations ASSE and EurAuPair.

Neither organisation has received any income since the introduction of the ban, and US families in need of au pairs as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak have been harmed, ASSE International president and CEO, Bill Gustafson said.

“President Trump’s recent proclamation on June 22 has virtually eliminated all of our programs organised in the States for university students, and post-university students as well in the field of training, internships, AuPair, Summer Work and Travel,” Gustafson noted.

“This has had a devastating effect on our organisation financially, as well as missed opportunities for over 5,000 post-secondary students to experience life and culture in the US.”

A recent State Department announcement opened up travel to the US from the Schengen area for F-1 and M-1 visa holders, while the majority of J-1 visa holders remain restricted.

Some Au Pairs can now enter the US under certain circumstances, stakeholders have indicated, while others suggest the differences for J-1 holders will be “negligible”.

“This is the time for our international education community to stand up and speak out”

“We believe the administration’s immigration proclamation accomplishes the opposite of its stated intent of boosting the American economy,” Jennifer Clinton, president and CEO Cultural Vistas said.

“Elimination of these J-1 Exchange Visitor programs will close doors for Americans to engage with the world. Unfortunately, despite widespread and bipartisan support for these programs, they remain at risk,” she added.

“This is the time for our international education community to stand up and speak out. This order is putting American businesses, communities, and families livelihoods at further risk. They deserve better.”

Last week, a move to terminate the US Fulbright exchange program in China and Hong Kong unearthed fresh concerns around the future of student mobility under the Trump administration.

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