US Department of State Lifts Cap on Camp Counselor Visas

The US Department of State has lifted a 2017 cap that limited the number of Camp Counselor category visas allotted under the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program. Effective immediately, agencies sponsoring applicants under the Camp Counselor visa program can apply for an expansion on the number of applicants they can accept for as early as summer 2019. The State Department will also begin accepting applications from agencies that wish to become new sponsors in the program.

The American Camp Association (ACA) reported on the decision last week, citing the work of its own team of advocates who have been working to protect the Camp Counselor Program for the past two years. Advocates of the ACA have been working to overturn the cap that was put in place in August 2017, which caused a shortage in the availability of Camp Counselor J-1 applications that affected many camps, including Camp Rising Sun.

The cap was put into place amidst discussions over the 2017 Presidential Executive Order on “Buy American and Hire American,” which called for an evaluation of work visas that the administration believed were taking jobs away from US citizens. As a result of the deferrals, sponsoring agencies were limited in the amount of DS-2019 applications they could issue to participants and were barred from requesting an increase in applications year-to-year.

Camp Rising Sun experienced the effects of the deferral first hand, which resulted in much earlier application deadlines for international seasonal staff compared to previous years. A deferral on requests for increased visa allotments coupled with a record number of international applicants meant that one of LAJF’s primary visa sponsors filled their quota earlier than February 1st. As a result, LAJF was limited to a single sponsoring agency for all of our international placements in 2019.

How does the Camp Counselor Visa Program Work?

The Camp Counselor Program is a category of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa that enables post-secondary students, youth workers, and teachers to participate in cultural exchange opportunities while working at summer camps in the United States. In 2018, over 24,000 new camp counselors visited the United States through the Camp Counselor Program. International camp counselors must be sponsored through an agency approved by the US Department of State. International applicants can apply directly through the agency in order to be listed in a pool of applicants from which camps can contact candidates for interviews.

Alternatively, LAJF works with our sponsors to place our international staff as Direct Placements, which means that our counselors can bypass the sponsor’s applicant pool by applying directly through our online application. LAJF partners with several sponsoring agencies to directly support our international counselors in order to complete the necessary visa requirements, including a local police background check, reference checks, and other documentation in order to receive their DS-2019 form before completing an interview at their nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

During the past two years of deferrals on expansions for visa quotas, several agencies had begun limiting the number of direct placements allotted in order to accommodate a growing number of first-time applicants through the general sponsor candidate pool, which is available to many camps across the country.  

As an international leadership program, Camp Rising Sun relies on the Camp Counselor visa program to hire an international team that is best suited to support our geographically diverse campers.  LAJF believes it is necessary to hire a staff team that reflects the diverse identities and nationalities of our campers in order to better serve as role models and mentors to our students from over 30 countries each year. In 2018, 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 our ratio of US to international campers. Read more about the visa process for staff and campers on our website.