The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals has formed a coalition to protect the J1 Summer Work Travel program from a proposed rule that would make it difficult to recruit lifeguards from other countries.

Pool-management companies take issue with language in a new rulemaking that prohibits exchange visitors from working as lifeguards at single-guard facilities.

The proposed change, which the U.S. Department of State (DOS) announced in January, comes as many pool-management companies prepare to hire this year’s lifeguards — a good number of whom come from other countries via DOS’s Summer Work Travel program.

Though it hasn’t yet been made law, some sponsors — third-parties that arrange employment and housing for international students — are showing extra caution.

“What appears to be happening with some of the sponsors is that they’re treating the proposed rule as the defacto rule,” said Carl Chidlow, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist retained by APSP.

In addition to the immediate staffing concerns, another proposed change holds serious ramifications for all industries that depend on the exchange program. It would put an end to the practice of taking public comments, a critical part of the rulemaking process. Ultimately, it would give DOS’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs final say over how the program should be administered with no input from stakeholders.

The DOS argues that cultural-exchange programs are foreign-policy matters and, therefore, no public involvement is needed, Chidlow said. But that would remove an arrow from the industry’s quiver: APSP has successfully thwarted similar rule changes in the past by engaging in the process.

To combat the measure, APSP is taking a three-pronged approach. First, it is aligning closely with the Small Business Administration, which itself is working with numerous industries to block J1 changes that they believe would be costly and burdensome. Secondly, APSP is speaking with legislators who represent substantial tourism districts, to consider the ramifications if pools are not adequately staffed for the season. Chidlow said a key argument they'll make in the J1 program's defense is that it supplies lifeguards when many American high school and college students aren't available to work, such as in May and August when many schools are in session.

Finally, there is an effort underway to help industries sidestep the rulemaking through “report language.” Through this step, the federal government can place conditions on the use of its funds. For instance, DOS could be told that the money cannot be used if the J1 rulemaking is enforced. “I think we’re going to get some traction there,” Chidlow said.