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Cultural Exchange Programs Worry About Trump's Reported Visa Review

Tourists walk down Commercial Street in Provincetown. Rep. Bill Keating worries the administration's reported review of J-1 visas, among others, may impact seasonal jobs he says are vital to the Cape and the Islands' summer economy. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Tourists walk down Commercial Street in Provincetown. Rep. Bill Keating worries the administration's reported review of J-1 visas, among others, may impact seasonal jobs he says are vital to the Cape and the Islands' summer economy. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Cultural exchange programs in Greater Boston are concerned about the future of a visa program that brings thousands of international workers and interns to the area every year.

President Trump's administration is reportedly looking to reduce or eliminate certain categories of the J-1 visa, including international internships.

The Boston-based Irish International Immigrant Center is a J-1 visa sponsor. According to the group, it matches around 500 young Irish people a year with internships in Massachusetts and across the country.

Ronnie Millar, executive director of the center, says many of the interns end up in business and engineering roles.

"These are internships, and the employers have to sign a training program that specifically states that this is not taking away a job from an American citizen," he said.

Interns are required to return to Ireland after 12 months, according to Millar.

"This is not a job, it's an internship, and it's a cultural exchange program, so I don't really sort of buy that notion that this is taking away jobs from Americans," he said.

In an April executive order, Trump announced plans to review immigration rules in what the administration says is an effort to protect U.S. workers and "their economic interests."

Massachusetts Congressman Bill Keating is criticizing the president's reported plan to reduce or eliminate J-1 visas for student workers. Keating, a Democrat, says 7,000 visa-holders come to the state each year to work seasonal jobs, which he says are vital to the Cape and Islands' economy.

"These are largely small businesses. The ones that survive season to season. Some of them close during the off season but they're also vital in attracting people to Cape Cod and the Islands," he said.

The scope of the administration's review is unclear, but according to recent reporting in the Wall Street Journal, some of the focus is said to be on seasonal workers, trainees, interns and au pairs arriving in the U.S. on a J-1 visa.

Cambridge-based Cultural Care Au Pair matches host families with young adults from around the world to provide child care. Dan Sodervall, president of the company, said in a statement that in Massachusetts "there are thousands of local host families as well as hundreds of employees based at our Cambridge headquarters who work with participants and the State Department to administer the program across the country."

Sodervall was in Washington, D.C., Tuesday to work with the State Department to gain clarity on the program's future.

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Shannon Dooling Twitter Reporter
Shannon Dooling is a reporter representing WBUR on a team of public radio station journalists in the New England News Collaborative.

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