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Are Ocean City Businesses Exploiting Exchange Students For Cheap Labor?

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Authorities shut down a string of Ocean City businesses after discovering they were employing exchange students not authorized to work in the U.S.
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Authorities shut down a string of Ocean City businesses after discovering they were employing exchange students not authorized to work in the U.S.

Cultural exchange programs that bring thousands of foreign students to Maryland's Ocean City to work and travel for the summer have come under some scrutiny in recent weeks.

Homeland Security officials shut down eight henna tattoo stands on the boardwalk this week after an investigation revealed that the stands were being run by foreign students here on F-1 visas, which allows them to study in the states, but not hold a job. The foreign students that are allowed to work in this country have a J-1 visa.

The State Department estimates about 100,000 kids from around the globe come to the States each year to work and travel. Proponents say it's a valuable cultural exchange program that helps with global diplomacy. It was started back in 1961 as a way to improve relations with Eastern European countries, but opponents like Jerry Kammer, a senior research fellow at the center for immigration studies, says it has turned into something else.

"It has really become, in my opinion, a cheap labor program that benefits interests and disadvantages American kids who are looking for work," says Kammer.

American companies don't have to pay social security, insurance or even full minimum wage for foreign students, and Kammer says it's cheaper for American companies to hire foreigners rather than Americans.

Anne Marie Conestabile, executive director of United Work and Travel in Ocean City, says this is more of a supply and demand issue. "Every employer that I have met would much rather hire an American. However, Americans do not come to work in housekeeping, they do not want to wash dishes in a restaurant."

And with Maryland's minimum wage set to rise to $10.10 an hour by 2018, both Kammer and Conestabile expect the demand for J-1 foreign students to go up in a big way.

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