by: Jacob Blount and Christina Randall, Ozarks First
Branson businesses are hoping to increase the local workforce for this summer with returning J1 students from countries like the Dominican Republic. J1 is a foreign exchange program that gives international college students a chance to work in the United States.
“We’d love to have them in the spring, as it turns out with how busy we were just as a city here, but we definitely will need them when we really hit what’s considered to be the traditional peak season,” said Craig Wescott, owner of the Track Family Fun Parks.
In 2019, J1 students made up roughly 1,200 of the seasonal workers in Branson.
“A couple of embassies have opened up, one of them being the Dominican Republic,” said Izze Martinez, program coordinator for the Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. “I know India is another one as well, and I mentioned to you on our last talk that the Dominican Republic is where we get a high volume of students, so that was a really big one for us.”
Martinez says her team is waiting for more embassies to open to allow more students to apply for work visas to travel to Branson this summer. This will be a huge help to a city of roughly 12,000 residents that supports millions of tourists a year.
“Well, if you don’t have enough people to do that for the summer, that makes things difficult,” said Martinez. “So that’s where the summer work and travel program really comes in to kind of help with that need.”
“They want to work,” said Wescott. “I mean, they’re here to get the culture, but they are sending money back home to their families or helping to pay for the school that they’re in. That’s a big deal.”
The Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce says it believes the city will have about 70% of the amount of J1 students working in Branson this summer compared to 2019.