Trump’s Administration has not been shy about its intention to reduce immigration to the United States. Under the current president, the country continues to work toward creating tougher restrictions on foreign visitors, specifically from Muslim countries. An example of these measures is that those travelers from Visa Waiver Countries, required to enroll with the ESTA, will be denied entry to U.S. soil if they have visited Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and/or Yemen.
Another alarming action to be taken by the White House is to cut down five employment-based programs that fall under the J-1 visa visa exchange program. In the past, these visas have allowed foreign students to stay in the U.S. for up to four months and work temporary jobs, learn the language and culture. However, a report by CBS news points out that under the exchange visa program an employer is not required to pay Social Security and Medicare tax and they do not have to cover the worker’s health insurance. This kind of visa has allowed some employers to spend less money on wages as they are not expected to follow the legal norms applied to U.S. employees.
Two sides of the coin
Cultural exchange visas have been heavily criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike because of how they appear to have been misused. Bernie Sanders openly discussed the shortcomings of the program on a speech to the Senate in 2013. Bernie said, “The J-1 program for foreign college students is supposed to be used as a cultural exchange program, a program to bring young people into this country.” He also added that, “this program has morphed into a low-wage jobs program to allow corporations...to replace young American workers with cheaper labor from overseas.”
It should not come as a surprise that more cuts are to be made to visa programs as the president made it extremely clear during his campaign and his time on office that he wishes to free America from immigrants. Back in April, Trump issued an executive order to “Buy American, Hire American” that specifically focused on H-1B visas. The administration supported this notion by saying that these visas damaged American workers opportunities. Ironically, before being president, Trump benefitted from such visas by hiring foreigners to work on his properties for lower wages.
Some cultural exchange programs in the U.S. have been vocal about their concern for the future. In Boston, an Irish International Immigrant Center argues that each year they have been able to match about 500 young Irish citizens with internships across the U.S. The organization argues that these students are not taking away from Americans in any way, that it is truly about cultural exchange.
The administration has yet to issue an official statement on how cultural exchange visas are going to be dealt with in the coming months, based on the information shared by the White House it is safe to say that restrictions will be enforced.