Hours were limited, attractions were closed, local staff were stretched thin — lingering COVID-related restrictions in 2021 led to another Jersey Shore summer of less help from foreign students who can come here on a temporary visa for summer work travel.

Availability of these students is expected to be greater for 2022, and that would mean better service for customers, but industry experts say it's too soon to tell how many of the J-1 exchange visitors they can actually count on.

"The good news is, there are no travel bans," said Vicki Clark, a board member of the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association.

During a typical summer, destinations across New Jersey welcome more than 5,000 international students for work purposes. The coronavirus pandemic dismantled the program in 2020 and continued to put a dent in the numbers in 2021.

"Last year we had a real workforce crisis," Clark said, noting that operations work year-round on attracting students from countless countries.

Interest from students and the absence of travel bans can only go so far, though. According to Denise Beckson, vice president of human resources for Morey's Piers in Wildwood, operations in the U.S. are still concerned about the chances of enough students getting visa interviews at embassies and consulates around the world.

"I can tell you right now that things are moving slower than they were pre-pandemic," Beckson said.

Beckson said Morey's Piers expects to see a greater number of J-1 workers this year — the company's count in 2021 was down by about 35% compared to a typical summer — but they do not anticipate the count to reach pre-COVID levels.

"We really want to see the State Department and the embassies and Consular Affairs process these students and make them a priority," Beckson said. "These students have such a small window to come here."

When reached for comment, a Department of State official said the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in "profound reductions" in the department's processing capacity. Visa wait times vary by countries and depend on local conditions and demand, the official noted.

"We continue to seek ways to process visa applications safely and efficiently around the world, in a manner consistent with science and public health," the official said.

Morey's Piers is scheduled to open for the season on April 29. Beckson said the first round of J-1 students should arrive in early May.

A limited roster last summer forced Morey's Piers to keep at least 10% of their rides closed at any given time, Beckson said. Certain attractions didn't run in 2021, and piers were open less often.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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