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Sister City May Boost J-1 Visa Numbers

The relationship with Door County’s Sister City, Jingdezhen, China, may result in an increased number of J-1 visa students working in the county next summer. The government-sponsored Sister City program helped strengthen the relationship between the two parts of the world and students at Jingdezhen University are eager to participate in the new opportunity.

“The Sister City program was going to try to make available up to 25 students for the upcoming summer,” said County Board Chair Dave Lienau, who has also hired Chinese J-1 visa students for his own business. “We had been approached by a couple of employers that had been looking for help getting J-1 students. Last year was very difficult to get some of the J-1s.”

Door County delegates visited the region, about 350 miles southwest of Shanghai, in October of 2016 and the J-1 visa program was one topic on the agenda. Lienau said J-1 visa sponsors in the United States had contacted Jingdezhen University to participate in the visa program earlier, but the university turned them down.

“Some of the Chinese universities are reluctant to work with the J-1 program,” said Lienau. “They are reluctant if it’s not government sponsored. We were able to use our Sister City contacts over there.”

Currently, anyone in Door County can go over to Jingdezhen and take classes for free at the Ceramics Institute, the only higher education institute dedicated to ceramic arts. The Chinese region was looking at ways to expand the exchange program and Door County had an opportunity to do so.

While the Sister City relationship does not tear down any of the red tape associated with the J-1 visa program, it does provide a government-level relationship in securing the visas. Previously, any Door County business owner could contact a J-1 visa sponsor in the United States seeking a Chinese student. The 25-student increase that Jingdezhen will promote is a boom in the midst of uncertainty in the future of the program.

“This is something we’re seeing on a trend but its been great for Door County that they’re maximizing your sister city potential with China,” said Haldis Toppen of CCI Greenheart, a Chicago-based sponsor for J-1 visa students. “At least from our standpoint overall, the program numbers haven’t shifted too much but there has been more interest in china.

After that October visit, Door County delegates continued conversations with the university and government offices. They finalized an arrangement at the beginning of December.

Employers are closely watching for the future of the J-1 visa program under president-elect Donald Trump. In his first policy statement of the election, published in August of 2015, he called specifically for elimination of the J-1 visa program to be replaced with a similar program where inner-city youth would participate. Trump has since removed any language relating to the J-1 visa program in his immigration policy.

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