Mark Foster, president of the Jamaican Association of Employment and Cultural Exchange (JAECE), said that the number of university students who travelled overseas on the work and travel programme this year increased, when compared to 2020.
Foster said that in 2020, there was a noticeable decline in applicants, with about 500 being allowed to go overseas, a far cry from the usual 7,500 students.
JAECE is an umbrella group that is dedicated to promoting opportunities for students and youth in the educational travel industry. Foster said that the sluggish figures in 2020 were as a result of the novel coronavirus, which caused many overseas partners to close their establishments. The Donald Trump administration’s decision to place a hold on student work visas further compounded the situation. However, this year saw a major improvement, with at least 5,000 students departing the island to gain summer employment at theme parks, restaurants and hotels overseas. Foster said this year’s performance may not have satisfied the usual quota, but overseas employers were pleased with the students’ performance. The application period for next year’s work and travel programme opened in July and ends in December. Foster is confident that the 2022 programme will exceed this summer’s performance.
“I think that this year will be better, especially since the embassy reopened, because that caused a little challenge,” Foster told THE STAR, while adding that the Democrats are keen on keeping the programme going. Kim was among the 5,000-plus students who travelled to the USA for work this summer. She said that this year was her second time participating in the programme, and this time around she worked as a housekeeper in Wisconsin. “I needed the money for tuition, yes, but work and travel gives the opportunity to go outside my comfort zone and see another environment. Being in Jamaica started to get depressing with the lockdowns and curfews. I needed more, and going away gave me that. I met other persons and learned about their culture, and to hear how they were coping with the pandemic. It was an eye-opener,” Kim told THE STAR. She added that she eagerly waited for her interview date in May and wasted no time in securing her airline ticket.
Foster told THE STAR that some students who travelled on the programme this year attained additional employment due to some worksites being short-staffed, as some Americans opted to stay home. Earl Morgan of the Overseas Work and Travel is happy to see the programme on the rebound. He is hoping for the days when business will return to pre-pandemic levels. Foster, who is CEO of the Student’s Work and Travel Productions Limited, said that he is preparing his team for next year’s cohort as he aims for a 100 per cent participant rate. “Students were cautious this year, but we are looking forward to next year. We are going full force for 100 per cent, because we realise that we can work at that capacity with COVID-19. That is the intention,” Foster said.