International students working on Grand Strand often targets of criminals

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – Police say international students working seasonal jobs along the Grand Strand are often targets of crimes. Myrtle Beach Police and other law enforcement agencies work to keep the students safe throughout the summer, and the first step of making that connection with the students is through the International Student Outreach Program.

The program is important to businesses along the Myrtle Beach coast because hoteliers and restaurant managers say they wouldn’t have the staff to function properly without the students.

“Well we had a situation where a young man was, he was in a bad situation,” explains Michael Winfree. “Kathy actually worked with him, brought him to the house and that started it.”

Michael Winfree and his wife Kathy have housed J1 students for the past three years after seeing a coworker taken advantage of.

“He was staying in a motel and they were charging 250 dollars a week, which was taking all the money he was making at the restaurant and he run out of money for food,” recalls Kathy Winfree. “So when he told me about it, what can you do? You open your door.”

The Winfree’s have made room for 14 students so far, and attended Thursday’s introductory meeting for the students to learn more about what they can do to help.

“The U.S. government, the Visa sponsors, the housing providers and all the host employers to educate everybody,” says Myrtle Beach Police Detective Pete Woods regarding the purpose of the meeting.

Police say because the students are unfamiliar with their surroundings and the people within the city, they can become easy targets for criminals.

“They work usually 10, 12 hour days,” explains Detective Woods. “They usually walk or bike to where they are staying and can be victims of criminals, so you’ll see strong armed robberies, sexual assaults. You’ll see other things.”

Another issue police and hosting families battle is labor trafficking. The young workers can sometimes be forced into harsh work conditions by employers.

“Where these students come and work long hours, will work second jobs and not get paid,” confirms Detective Woods.

For people like the Winfrees, it’s important to stay educated so they can keep helping others.

“They become like family,” says Winfree.

There will be multiple outreach programs for students themselves in areas along the Grand Strand. The first is May 9 at Sea Coast Vinyard Church.