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Pending Visas Delay Foreign Student Workers In Ocean City

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Pending approval of the J-1 visas for foreign student workers has caused a staff shortage at many businesses in Ocean City.
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Pending approval of the J-1 visas for foreign student workers has caused a staff shortage at many businesses in Ocean City.

At United Work and Travel's Ocean City office, program director Anne Marie Conestabile is giving orientation to a roomful of students from Eastern Europe and the Dominican Republic.

"You are our guests, you are invited by the government of the United States to have a wonderful cultural experience here in Ocean City, Md.," she says.

But Conestabile says hundreds of kids who applied to come to Ocean City this summer aren't here yet because their J-1 visas haven't been approved, causing staff shortages at many resort businesses.

"Employers are calling me [asking], 'where are our kids? It's Memorial Day weekend, what's going on?' And the reason is because of the heightened security levels in our country. Since the Boston marathon, they've heightened the security level to a high peak."

The net effect of that heightened security is that each of the more than 90,000 students expected in America this summer is being heavily screened, and consulates are holding their passports two to three weeks at a time.

And that's not even the biggest concern for the work and travel industry right now.

The Senate Judiciary Committee' s proposed immigration reform bill seeks to not only switch control of the program from the State Department to Homeland Security, but it also would redefine the students as migrant workers rather than cultural exchange participants, and require companies who bring them here to pay the government a fee of $500 per student worker, with the money to be used to fund border security enhancements.

Some fear the proposed reform could cripple the student work program and travel industry, possibly stopping students like Ludmil from Moldova from experiencing this country altogether.

"America is the perfect place for experience, because here we see a lot of nationalities and this is a treasure for us because we can learn," says Ludmil.

Meanwhile Conestabile is hoping the students that she and the local businesses are waiting for, get here soon.

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