Cape Cod's Hidden Student Workforce

They’re students from abroad, and they’re called J-1’s, after the type of visa they hold.  It’s a cultural exchange visa, but it allows them to work while they’re here for three-to-four months. 

Massachusetts has the highest number of these kinds of J-1 students in the United States, and the majority are on the Cape and Islands for the summer. Our series examines why they've become so important to the seasonal economy, whether the program that brings them here has drifted from its original mission in order to fill a labor need, and what the experience of Cape Cod is for these students, many of whom are living away from home for the first time while working two, and sometimes three, jobs.   

This is a three-part series.

Sarah Tan / WCAI

It’s just after midnight, and there’s almost no one on the streets of Orleans. But at a strip mall, a group of J-1 students are emerging from their shifts at the local grocery store to catch a special late night bus.

This is part of a three-part series called Cape Cod's Hidden Student Workforce. All of the pieces can be heard here. 

https://j1visa.state.gov/

Foreign students in the U.S. on a J-1 Visa often have to pay several thousand dollars just to get into the country and find a job.  And if they run into trouble when they're here, their only recourse is to turn to a sponsor, who often manages several hundred students at a time. 

WCAI’s Kathryn Eident talked with Sarah Tan to learn more about sponsors in the J-1 program, and about a non-profit that’s interested in changing the program’s designation so that it could be better regulated. 

Sarah Tan / WCAI

It’s a muggy summer day at Pastor Matthew Boyle’s house in Harwich Port, and inside, the sound of Jamaican music sifts through the still air. Today is Jamaican independence day, and Boyle and volunteers are hosting a traditional Jamaican dinner for local J-1 students. 

Sarah Tan / WCAI

Perhaps you've seen them on the side of the highway, their bike lights flashing as you pass them in the night, or maybe they've rung you up at the grocery store and you've noticed an accent. They’re students from abroad, and they’re called J-1’s, after the type of visa they hold.  It's a cultural exchange visa, but it allows them to work while they’re here for three to four months. Every year, Massachusetts brings in the highest number of these kinds of J-1 students in the United States, and the majority are on the Cape and Islands for the summer.