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Industry News - September 2015

By Jessica Kissell, Director, Employer Relations

Industrynews_Alliance_Mark_OvermannGo behind the scenes at the Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange, an association of nongovernmental organizations that advocates for international exchange, with this interview with Mark Overmann, deputy director.

CIEE: Tell us what the Alliance does on behalf of international exchange.

Overmann: We advocate for policies, regulations, and funding levels that best support the growth and well-being of exchange programs. We rely greatly on our members, on the American participants in exchange programs, and hosts of exchange students, to make their voices heard to their members of Congress.

CIEE: What kinds of organizations make up your membership?

Overmann: U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations that facilitate State Department exchange programs of all types. Some are focused on government-funded exchanges, like the Fulbright and International Visitor Leadership Program. Others have private sector J-1 exchanges. Some include both. All members work with the Alliance to advocate on behalf of their programs.

CIEE: What’s a “day in the life” like for Alliance staff members in Washington, D.C.?

Overmann: When Congress is in session, we are on the Hill meeting with the staff of key members of the House and Senate. Or, we may be planning and running our own events, like Advocacy Days, our annual membership meeting, and compliance workshops. We often present at our members’ conferences and those of other partner associations. And many days we’re traveling around the United States and the world to engage with members of Congress in their home offices, and meet with staff members at U.S. embassies and consulates.

CIEE: The J-1 exchange community has faced some serious threats over the past few years, especially with regard to immigration reform. With a Republican-controlled Congress, what’s the outlook for immigration reform?

Overmann: We don’t expect another push toward comprehensive immigration reform, as this is not a Republican priority, but we expect a series of smaller bills that will focus on anti-trafficking issues. We’ve established a productive dialogue with the anti-trafficking advocacy community to work toward a common goal of exchange-participant safety. We’re hopeful that any bills moving in Congress will not disadvantage or disrupt J-1 exchange programs, and we’ll remain on top of these issues.

CIEE: Can our community really move the needle in Washington?

Overmann: We can, and we have. The engagement with the world that our programs facilitate is key to U.S. security and economic competitiveness, and many members of Congress understand this. Exchanges have bipartisan support. From work on immigration reform to increased federal funding for exchanges, our community has garnered tangible successes on Capitol Hill.

CIEE: How can exchange participants and hosts get involved to help advocate for exchanges?

Overmann: Maintain ongoing relationships with your members of Congress at home. Invite your member to speak at an event. Invite his/her staff members to meet your exchange students. Make yourself a resource for those staff members, by sending them information about what’s happening in your community. Make them your friends before you need them. When it comes time to ask for help on an issue, you’ll be that much more successful if you’ve already built and solidified a relationship.