Yesterday, the Portsmouth Brewery was one of five New England businesses provided in a piece in the New York Times called Business as Unusual.

A reader comment caught my eye, and I felt compelled to respond. Turns out, I got a little, er, wordy, and my response exceeded the number of characters the Times allows in its comments section. Given the brilliance of my response, and my ego’s unwillingness to edit it to a more reasonable length, I decided to post it here, along with the original reader comment. Enjoy, and please feel free to comment on my comment, if you’re so moved.

First, the comment that got me going.

Now, my response…

Dear Scott

I am the “cheapskate employer” you referred to in your comments. Please allow me to respond to your opinions with some facts.

J-1 visa holders are students who are employed during their summer break, precisely the time when highly seasonal businesses such as mine are challenged to find enough workers to meet demand. It’s no surprise that businesses in vacationland, who see their sales increase at a far faster rate than the available labor pool does, regard the annual arrival of J-1 students with great relief (along with their departure in the fall). Not because we can pay them less (we can’t), but because their presence enables us to offer the level of service our guests expect and demand. Please consider that when you’re on vacation this summer, and the restaurants and hotels you visit are understaffed and offer you less than the stellar service you deserve.

I have never paid a J-1 visa holder less than I pay an American worker doing the same job. There are two reasons for this. First, it’s the right thing to do. Second, J-1 workers are filling jobs at a time when demand exceeds supply, and the invisible hand of the marketplace sets wage rates, not the desire of an unscrupulous business owner to exploit “cheap” labor.

While J-1 visa holders get paid the same as their American counterparts, employers do save some money on the back end because, since foreign students do not participate in Social Security or Medicare, their wages are exempt from FICA taxes. The employer’s FICA contribution, as I’m sure you know, is 7.65% of an employee’s wages. That savings, however, is more than offset by the administrative and practical burdens associated with the J-1 program, the biggest of which is finding housing for these student workers. Because of that, I would prefer to hire American workers, even though they cost me 7.65% more, believe me.

That said, J-1 workers have always been a welcome addition to our staff for reasons that have nothing to do with economics. Back home, they are college and university students who come from many different countries and bring with them a wide range of backgrounds and interests. The experience they have working for a summer in the United States is something they will carry for the rest of their lives. By the same token, their American co-workers have the opportunity to become acquainted with people they would otherwise never have the opportunity to meet, an experience they, too, will carry with them. Some of them establish relationships that outlast their time working at my restaurant. To dismiss these young people as “cheap foreign labor” does them a disservice. These are the future professionals of their home countries. I hope that even your own kids might someday have the privilege of having foreign co-workers at their summer jobs.

Those are the facts. Now I’ll close by offering an observation of my own: I’m having a hard time squaring your comments about the previous administration’s disastrous trade and immigration policies with your critique of the J-1 visa program and employers who hire foreign students. It would seem that you are arguing in favor of precisely what the previous administration did, namely cancelling the J-1 program, slamming the door in the face of foreign student workers and the businesses who employ them. This has not worked out well.

You, sir, appear to be a hammer in search of a nail, and while there are plenty of excellent nails for you to swing at, in this case you’ve chosen the wrong one.