Letter: The best diplomacy happens one handshake at a time

Recently, the White House issued a proclamation suspending some nonimmigrant visas, including certain categories of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program. These international exchange programs invite people from around the world to visit and live in cities throughout the United States as a way to build international cooperation. Suspension of J-1 visas for international interns, trainees, teachers, camp counselors, au pairs and summer work program participants is a threat to national security.

These international exchange programs do not displace American workers. In fact, they contribute more than $1.2 billion to the U.S. economy. They also play a critical role in expanding worldviews, developing global economic connections, building cultural bridges, breaking down stereotypes, and fostering international cooperation.

I've been privileged to work as a "citizen diplomat" through Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy (UCCD). Since 1967, UCCD has served as a nonpartisan nonprofit that partners with the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program to welcome foreign leaders to Utah, highlighting our state as an economic, cultural and innovative hub.

I've been honored to meet the world's top journalists, educators, global health professionals, religious leaders and environmental policymakers, to name a few. I, and thousands of Utah volunteers, have the opportunity to meet with them to share firsthand the triumphs and struggles we all face both personally and professionally.

People-to-people diplomacy plays a vital role in helping shape U.S. foreign relations in the most cost-effective way — one handshake at a time.

Felecia Maxfield-Barrett, executive director, Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy

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