Update on the J-1 Visa Camp Counselor and Camp Summer Work Travel Programs
One of the key elements of a terrific summer at Camp Agawam is the strength of our counselors. For over 50 years, Agawam has welcomed and been augmented by a complement of international staff members. Not only do these counselors create a safe, fun and enriching environment for our campers, but they also help widen our lenses and make connections to the global community. They introduce us to their culture and help us to learn to appreciate differences and diversity. Agawam’s community is enhanced because of these experiences. And on the flip side, these staff members learn not only about Agawam, but also create lasting bonds with staff and campers from all over the United States and the world. J-1 visas also allow many of our international staff to travel the country after the end of the Agawam season and explore many of the cities and national parks, having the opportunity to gain an appreciation of American culture, often staying with Agawam friends they have made.
As many of you know the J-1 Visa program and the Summer Work Travel (SWT) program is at risk as it falls under the purview of President Trump’s Buy American and Hire American Executive Order. As these programs are valued by Agawam and essential to many camps, the American Camp Association called upon camp professionals to reach out to their camp community to contact their elected officials to protect these programs. Thank you to all of you who took the time to do that. Here is just one example of the important role that the J-1 Visa program has for the Agawam community from former Camp Agawam counselor “Cruiser” Meghan Greenberg Lockwood (’01-’09):
Of the many benefits I gained from working as a counselor at Camp Agawam, one that stands out is the opportunity to work alongside international colleagues. While of course we had a great time making fun of each other’s accents and debating whether it was called a “flashlight” or a “torch,” we lived and worked closely together, learned about one another’s cultures, and built friendships that will last a lifetime.
Last month I moved to Melbourne, Australia, with my family, and I am so grateful that two of my former Australian colleagues from Agawam live here as well. We haven’t seen each other in 12 years, but with camp friendships, that doesn’t matter at all. I have listed them as emergency contacts at my son’s day care and learned from them how to navigate the competitive housing rental market here. One of them has a son two months younger than mine, and we have already gotten together with our boys and are making plans for more adventures in the months ahead.
I started working for an Australian company two weeks ago, and while there are certainly adjustments to make, I realize every day how lucky I am that this is not my first experience working with non-Americans. Thanks to my experience at Camp Agawam, I am more attune to cultural differences and potential misunderstandings because I understand and appreciate that organizations function differently in different places. The J-1 Visa program has made a difference to me and many others, and I hope that it will be preserved.
We recently received an update on the status of the J-1 Visa and SWT programs from the American Camp Association and we wanted to share that with you. The following is quoted from that ACA update:
- There has been a great deal of activity in Washington to help to protect the J-1 Visa Camp Counselor and camp Summer Work Travel (SWT) programs that are important for so many camps. This summer, ACA learned that the J-1 Visa Camp Counselor and camp SWT programs are under threat, pursuant to the President’s Buy American and Hire American Executive Order.
- ACA immediately mounted an aggressive campaign advocate for these programs, which are essential to so many US camps. We asked ACA members to contact their congressional delegations and the White House, using letter templates we constructed through our Voter Voice portal. We engaged in many conversations on Capitol Hill with Congressional leaders to educate them about the importance of J-1 to camps, and to ask them to engage with the White House to protect the Camp Counselor and camp use of the SWT programs.
- Our ACA advocacy campaign has been very effective, carrying the camp message with significant reach and impact over past two months. Our voice has been heard loudly throughout Washington. We have also retained two prominent government relations firms to help in our targeted outreach to Congress and within the Trump Administration, to amplify our voice, and to continue to drive home our message about the importance of J-1 to camps.
- The good news is that after numerous conversations with key staff members within the Administration, we are now being told that summer camps are not a direct target of any revisions in the J-1 Visa programs. However, ACA is receiving conflicting information about whether or not camps utilizing these J-1 Visa programs will be affected by other policy changes in the near or long term.
- We have learned in our White House meetings that the cultural exchange component of the J-1 Visa programs is a critical consideration of the Administration as they examine the J-1 programs, so we must remember to maintain our focus on the importance of providing high quality cultural exchange experiences for all participants in the J-1 Camp Counselor and SWT programs at camps. Camps have a great track record of providing meaningful cultural exchange and educational experiences for both J-1 participants and our camps and American staff, and we must continue to dedicate ourselves to this important work.
- Given that this Administration is continuing to examine the J-1 programs, we are remaining diligent in sharing timely information with key gatekeepers within the Administration and Congress regarding the quality cultural exchange experiences delivered by our camps. We continue to stress that any changes to J-1 programs must not impact our camps in a negative way, even unintentionally or tangentially.
- ACA is continuing to work with camp sponsors and placement agencies, sharing information and reviewing strategy. We encourage you to stay in contact with your camp sponsoring agencies as you begin to plan for the 2018 camp season.
- Over the next number of weeks, we will continue to carry the camp message and meet with officials in the White House, State Department, and other Executive agencies with jurisdiction. ACA will also continue to visit with key members of Congress to help them understand our concerns and to make plans for Congressional intervention should changes be proposed that are detrimental to camps.
- ACA will continue to keep its members and affiliates updated on political and policy developments. Should the need arise, we may need to ask ACA members to again contact their Congressional delegations and the White House as we learn more about the Administration’s intentions for the J-1 Visa programs. We will let you know if this is needed.