Understanding what the J-1 Visa Means for CRS

Camp Rising Sun treasures diversity and intercultural understanding. To create this intentional learning community, we assemble a staff team with members from around the globe. As an international leadership program, Camp Rising Sun relies on the J-1 visa program to hire an international team that is best suited to support our geographically diverse campers.  It is necessary that our summer staff reflect the diverse nationalities of our campers in order to better serve as role models and mentors to our students from over 30 countries. In 2017, nearly half of our camp counselors were from countries outside the United States, working under the J-1 visa. This balanced ratio of US to international counselors is intentionally sought to reflect of our ratio of US to international campers. 

In April 2017, the White House issued the Presidential Executive Order on “Buy American and Hire American,” which called for an evaluation of work visas that the administration believed to be taking jobs away from US citizens. At the time, the order mainly focused the H-1B visa category, and our summer staff hiring process was unhindered for the 2017 camp season. The Wall Street Journal reported in August that recent conversations among the White House interagency working group indicate that the J-1 visa exchange visitor program, particularly the Summer Work Travel (SWT) and Camp Counselor Program, are now being included in the discussion of potential visa categories that could be limited or cut entirely as a part of the Buy American and Hire American initiative.

Our international counselors are invaluable members of the Camp Rising Sun community. Many of our international staff are CRS alumni who serve as committee members and volunteers in their local alumni associations and apply as counselors in order to give back and revisit a program that had a profound impact on their own life trajectory.  Other counselors are new to CRS and come from countries without established alumni associations. These counselors may have been referred by friends or found us online and can offer valuable perspectives and new ideas on how to improve our program. There is no doubt that Camp thrives on our ability to hire culturally and linguistically diverse staff members from around the world.  

None of what I got to experience this summer could have happened without a visa. The J-1 camp counselor program allowed me to reconnect with camp while gaining a whole new perspective on it. Moreover, it was a learning lesson on working in the US and the summer certainly taught me a lot about this corner of the world. I strongly believe that diversity should show at CRS both through campers and counselors, as we all bring something unique to the mix that makes camp, camp. I’m grateful for this chance to both connect and reconnect, while broadening my professional horizons.
— Katri Raudaskoski (Finland) '08, '09, '17

There has not yet been any official policy statement by the US Presidential administration as to whether the J-1 visa will officially be restricted. However, the recent discussions indicate a concerning shift from the previous assumption that the J-1 cultural exchange visa would not be affected by the previous Executive Order. Until any formal directive is made restricting the J-1 visa, the Foundation will continue to work towards preserving the J-1 camp counselor visa program and renewing our contracts with our own visa sponsors in order to hire international camp staff for the 2018 season.

For more information and to learn how you can help preserve the J-1 exchange visa, please visit the American Camp Association, which has put together an action guide including letters to Congress and a place to submit personal testimonies of your personal experience with the Camp Cultural Exchange program.