To Branson and Beyond

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Broaden your cultural horizons and become part of Branson's workforce with the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program

While Branson is working to become a year-round destination, there is still a higher influx of visitors from Memorial Day to Labor Day and in November and December, increasing the need for local seasonal workers. One way to tackle that is through the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program, bringing international college and university students to the Ozarks to gain work experience, cultural experience and more.

The Summer Work Travel program, directed by the U.S. Department of State, gives foreign students an opportunity to live and work in the US during their summer vacation from college or university to experience and to be exposed to the people and way of life in the United States. Students in Branson enjoy the opportunity to spend their summer break living and learning, while working for a local employer to cover expenses and take some money back home. The tri-lakes area also operates the J-1 Trainee and intern programs that are designed to allow foreign professionals to come to the United States to gain exposure to U.S. culture and to receive training in their chosen occupational field for 12 to 18 months. Students, recent graduates and young professionals can apply for this program, which must fulfill professional objectives of the host employer and not displace American workers. This particular program also provides an opportunity for the host employer to enhance the company’s understanding of the world.

The success of these programs is made possible due in part to the J-1 International Student Outreach Program and Community Support Group. This collaborative effort, composed of local employers, businesses and visa sponsors to support the J-1 programs in Branson, was launched in 2015 by Cultural Exchange Network and adopted by the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce in 2017.

These J-1 programs have had success in Branson, with nearly 1,500 students participating since 2015. The Summer Work and Travel program participants make up the majority of J-1 students coming to Branson on this visa and directly impacts Branson’s seasonal workforce. “Summer Work and Travel students provide critical support to Branson’s economy and its American workers during the resort’s high summer season,” says Robyn Walker, Executive Director of the Cultural Exchange Network, a J-1 visa sponsor.

The Hiltons of Branson has seen this impact firsthand. Hilton has participated in the J-1 Program since 2015 to hire workers for the housekeeping department. While the students help hotels take care of customers during the busy season, their impact goes way beyond that. “This program increases the engagement of our guests when they meet an employee from another country and promotes diversity,” says Sara Mueller, the Regional Human Resources Director for Hiltons of Branson.

These experiences are creating a win-win solution for Branson employers and international students by creating lasting bonds and elevating Branson’s reputation on the map. “Many of the students become part of the Branson family,” says former Branson Mayor Karen Best. “Employers have traveled to see their student ‘family members’ in their native country and to meet their families.” It is a program that Best and other the J-1 cultural program provides incredible opportunities for the international workers,” she says. “Not only do they fill a gap for seasonal employees, they also learn about our incredible Ozarks culture which is filled with hospitality. “