Jersey shore businesses hope for more foreign workers this summer

According to Cape May County officials, there were about 2,500 foreign workers in the county each year before the pandemic.
OCEAN CITY, New Jersey (WPVI) -- As summer approaches, businesses at the Jersey shore are hoping foreign workers will return in full force to bolster their seasonal staff.

Before the pandemic, Shriver's employed 10 to 15 people who were here on a J-1 visa to work on the Ocean City boardwalk.

"We're always happy to have international students," said production manager Igor Dukov. "They want to see the States. They enjoy the work."

Dukov is now checking in with former Ukrainian workers who spent the summer at Shriver's, including one young woman from Kiev.

"She says what we see, it's no good. People leaving their houses, leaving their homes. They don't know when they're going to come back. She misses the United States," said Dukov.

After the pandemic severely limited the J-1 program, travel restrictions have been eased and many businesses are hopeful for more student workers this summer.

According to Cape May County officials, about 2,500 J-1 students worked in the county each year before the pandemic.

Jilly's Arcade on the boardwalk just had its first J-1 student of the year arrive from Thailand.

"Our local employees are really able to digest a lot of different values and different work ethics and really be able to bond with other types of employees from different areas of the world," said Jilly's co-owner Jody Levchuck.

Levchuck says he typically hires a third of his summer staff from the J-1 program. His remaining staff includes a mixture of local students and adults.

He's also been checking in on former employees from Ukraine. He says if the conflict means fewer workers, they'll get by.

According to Joseph Simonetta, executive vice president of the New Jersey Tourism industry, 10-12% of the J-1 workers at the Jersey shore typically come from Ukraine and Russia.

"We saw a lot of applications that have already been processed from both Russia and Ukraine," said Simonetta. "There's no doubt in our mind that the ability for them to travel here, or even their ability to safely get out of harm's way is in jeopardy."

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