This week, David Chapman, Director General of WYSE Travel Confederation writes about the value of the USA’s J-1 exchange programme in light of recent Senate debates to amend the system.

“Young people are growing up in a world full of uncertainty, with political and economic instability throwing up many questions about their future prosperity and security. In spite of this, we can draw confidence from the fact that increasing numbers of young people are taking advantage of the enriching experience travel can bring. Not only are they travelling more but, as our latest research on young consumer travel behaviour confirms, they are predominantly travelling to acquire new skills, learn more about themselves and most importantly, gain a better understanding of other cultures.

This is why we're concerned about recent moves to curtail the reach and purpose of the United States' J-1 visa programme, through the Immigration Reform Bill, presented to the US Congress in May 2013. The Bill contained a range of measures which would limit the ability of agents to operate cultural and educational exchange programmes in the US that have a work experience element. Since the programme was introduced over 50 years ago, agents around the world have worked hard to create safe, educational and enriching experiences for young people.

But it's not just young people who benefit from such exchanges. The United States' economy and society draws massive benefits from the programme too. Our New Horizons III study, which collected over 34,000 responses from young people globally, reveals some interesting characteristics about those who travel for educational exchanges and work experience:

• The United States is by far the world’s leading work experience destination and derives many benefits from the personal ties that are made with citizens of countries of strategic importance.

• Work experience travellers bring in more money than they earn in a country. Spending among those who work and travel is greater (average spend - US$4,500 per trip) than spending by travellers generally (at US$3,800 per trip).

• Money earned whilst travelling is re-invested in the host country and is more likely to reach local communities and businesses than the average tourist dollar. Whether as a source of tax income, skills or innovation, work experience participants on the J-1 visa programme give an important boost to the US economy.

• Structured work experience programmes in the US offer young people from around the world a unique chance to learn about life in the US and build connections with US citizens that last a lifetime.

The special session on the J-1 visa programme is always among the popular educational sessions that help professionals from across our industry to keep up with the latest trends at the World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC), which this year will take place in Sydney from 17-20 September.”

Editor’s note – Subsequent to this article being written, the US Senate has passed an Immigration Bill ( and watered down some of the proposals that threatened to undermine the scheme.

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