Where Are All These Summer Workers Coming From?

BY Paul Solman  August 17, 2012 at 2:21 PM EST

Maeve O’Brien serves ice cream from the Original Boston Frosty truck, on July 10, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. O’Brien is from Cork, Ireland, working in Boston for the summer. Photo by Ann Hermes/ The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images.

If you’ve been to the beach this summer, chances are you’ve run into seasonal workers from abroad. Our own Lee Koromvokis, award-winning NewsHour producer, said they were everywhere on a recent trip to Cape May, N.J.: “The waiter who served us when we went out to lunch, the salesclerk at the fudge counter, even the hawker outside the souvenir shop.”

This year, about 85,000 international students are here as part of the State Department’s Summer Work Travel program. Kids come to the U.S. for three months to do temporary, low-wage jobs. When they’re done they can stay one more month to travel the country. SWT began in the 1960s as a cultural exchange between Americans and foreign workers. But as we report in tonight’s story, critics blame the program for displacing young Americans who need work. What do you think?

We’ve put together the map below which shows how many SWT kids worked in each state last year. There were thousands in New Jersey, Virginia, and other Mid-Atlantic states, but less than a hundred in Nebraska and Arkansas.

Where are they coming from? Michael McCarry of the Alliance for International and Cultural Affairs says the places of origin have shifted since the program’s inception.

“The program started with most participants coming from Western Europe, looking for a summer adventure in the U.S. Things changed rapidly after 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down and the Warsaw Pact dissolved. University students in the emerging democracies in Central Europe — students who previously had virtually no chance to travel — were thirsting for an opportunity to visit the U.S., and became the largest group of SWT participants.”

As you can see in our map, in the last 10 years most of the foreign students have come here from Russia, Ukraine, and other countries formerly in the Soviet Union. Recently there have also been significant numbers from Brazil, Turkey, Southeast Asia. And it will come as no surprise that more and more are coming from China.

This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown- NewsHour’s blog of news and insight. Follow Paul on Twitter.