Across the Washington area last week, young workers from Europe arrived in droves, heading for jobs at community swimming pools. Lugging duffel bags, they filled out forms, picked up safety gear and chatted in a variety of Slavic languages, eager to plunge into a summer experience of new friends, skills and culture.
“Now I can meet many people and see America,” gushed Anzhala Scherbina, 21, a petite student from Ukraine whose family spent $3,000 so she could fly here and enter a U.S.-sponsored work-travel program. “My parents say this will be a very good experience,” she said with a giggle.
The Obama administration is going to great lengths to make sure Scherbina and about 100,000 other foreign student workers are not disappointed. Last summer, the popular program, aimed at creating good will abroad, was rocked by scandal when students working at a candy warehouse in Pennsylvania staged a protest, complaining of isolation and overwork.
But the new rules do not address a broader, more profound question that some immigration and labor experts have raised about many sectors of the economy. Today, more than 50 million Americans of traditional working age are not employed, and yet a growing number of domestic jobs — from hotel clerks to nurses to computer scientists — are being performed by foreign-born workers.
For college-age Americans, there is a high rate of unemployment among those from poor families and fierce competition among middle-class students to build résumés that show responsibility. So why, critics wonder, are fewer young Americans snapping up relatively easy summer jobs? In other words, why is Scherbina here?
“The international students are really grateful to be here and have a job, while American students have so many other activities and demands on their time now,” said Douglas Winkler, whose Hyattsville company manages 225 pools in residential complexes and hotels.