We’ve been bumming around New Zealand for almost a year now, which is an awesome amount of time to be living and working legally in a foreign country. A trip of this length is only made possible because New Zealand offers a working holiday visa to young travelers. Common in most of the world but completely alien to the US, working holidays are the backbone of international long-term travel. But, reinforcing the stereotype yet again, America can’t play nice with other countries and (usually) doesn’t allow young travelers to legally work for a short time while visiting our fair shores.
Nearly every traveler I’ve met here in New Zealand would love to travel to the United States for six months or a year. But nope, most people (notably, EU residents) aren’t allowed working holiday visas in the US. We’ve got this big fantastic country that we’re so proud of, and we don’t want to share it with a few million young travelers? Ok, they’d temporarily take some seasonal jobs away from Americans, but they’d bring an incredible amount of value to other areas of our culture. Even ignoring the jobs they’d create through spending their deutschmarks and drachmas (ok, maybe not the latter), the cultural exchange and variety of perspectives they bring are invaluable.
In the last year I’ve met people from all over the world and learned something from all of them. Here in Wanaka we’ve had travelers crashing on our couch from France, Chile, Australia, Germany, Israel, the Czech Republic, and yes, even from back home in America, and though we haven’t been actively traveling for the last few months, our lives have been enriched and enlightened. We’ve learned to make real hummus, found an awesome French internet radio station, and been entertained by many, many acoustic guitars. No, freedom ain’t free, but isn’t this worth something?
Isn’t this kind of influx of positive energy and voices just what many of our stagnant towns and cities in the United States need? Isn’t it at least worth a try? Offer a few million working holiday visas to people from around the globe, study it, and see what kind of effect it has on our communities. The risk is low and the reward is high. But then again, I’m expecting rational decision making and action from our political system. Silly me!