Understanding the Visa Process

Selection for many regions is now complete, and the next step in the journey to Camp Rising Sun for our international campers and summer staff is to obtain a visa. Campers and counselors each apply for a different type of visa, one for personal travel and the other for summer work in a cultural exchange program. Today, we answer some common questions about the visa process. To read about the importance of the J-1 visa to the Rising Sun program, read our blog Understanding What The J-1 Visa Means for CRS.


Q: Who needs a visa?  

A: Many international campers and all summer staff traveling to the United States for Camp require a visa. Whether a camper requires a visa depends on the region where they live. Nationals of 38 countries are currently eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows most passport holders of the countries listed to travel to the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa. Campers eligible for the VWP must obtain approval through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before traveling to the United States.

Campers who are not eligible for the VWP must obtain a  B-1/B-2 visitor visa to attend Camp. According the U.S. Department of State, “visitor visas are nonimmigrant visas for persons who want to enter the United States temporarily for…tourism, pleasure or visiting (visa category B-2).” Read more about the B-1/B-2 visa here.

All summer camp counselors must obtain a J-1 cultural exchange visa to work at camp, even if residing in a VWP country. LAJF is able to hire international summer staff through the Camp Counselor Program, which is housed under the U.S. State Department Exchange Visitor Program. The purpose of the Exchange Visitor (J) nonimmigrant visa is to allow individuals to work and study in programs that foster global understanding through educational and cultural exchanges.


Q: What does it take to get a visa?

A: The process and timeline differs slightly among each country, however the general process for campers consists of the following:

  1. Complete the online visa application (Form DS-160)
  2. Schedule an appointment and complete the interview process at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, typically in the country where the applicant lives except where no U.S. Embassy exists.
  3. Pay the non-refundable visa application fee(s)
  4. Await the decision
  5. If the visa is approved, campers can proceed with travel arrangements to attend Camp Rising Sun.

For more information about the visa application process, click here.

International camp counselors work directly with our visa sponsoring agencies to complete the online application, including a local police background check, reference check, and other documentation in order to receive their DS-2019 form before completing an interview at their nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.


Q: What is the role of LAJF?

A: Campers are responsible for obtaining their own visa to attend Camp. LAJF does not cover visa-related fees for campers; however, the organization does provide applicants with necessary documentation that must be presented to officials at the U.S. Embassy during the visa interview. As part of the visa process, the campers must explain the purpose of their trip, intent to return to their home country, and how they will cover the of their trip. To support the application, LAJF provides a signed scholarship letter, which demonstrates the purpose of the applicant’s trip, travel dates, proof of in-country hosting, and support for the camper’s ability to pay all costs of the trip.

LAJF does cover the sponsorship fees for international camp counselors. LAJF works directly with Exchange Visitor Program designated sponsors, including CampLeaders and InterExchange’s CampUSA, to support counselors through the J-1 visa application process. LAJF is not able to hire international counselors independent of these government-designated organizations. Visa sponsoring agencies screen candidates, guide applicants through obtaining necessary documentation and pre-screening interviews,and provide emergency medical insurance while in country. LAJF sponsors the placement fees for international counselors, though applicants are still responsible for paying any additional fees not covered in the sponsorship costs, such as the U.S. embassy fee.


Q: What is the role of the Selectors?

A: Local selectors are a great resource for campers going through the visa process. Campers who have a local selector can ask questions about the process and receive feedback from past seasons. Some local selectors and partner schools also assist with filling out the application, scheduling the embassy appointment, or supporting visa fees under unique circumstances. Campers who do not have a local selector or alumni association can reach out to LAJF staff with any questions at contact@lajf.org.


Q: Why is it difficult to get a visa?

A: There may be several challenges in obtaining either a B-1/B-2 or J-1 visa including financial resources, access to a U.S. Embassy, lengthy wait times for interviews, political restrictions, and more.

Throughout the application process, camper applicants must demonstrate:

  • “That the purpose of their trip is to enter the United States temporarily for business or pleasure;
  • That they plan to remain for a specific, limited period;
  • Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the United States;
  • That they have a residence outside the United States as well as other binding ties that will ensure their departure from the United States at the end of the visit.”

Though LAJF provides documentation to support these claims, the ultimate decision as to whether or not an individual meets the required criteria is at the discretion of the consular officer conducting the interview. If a visa is denied, the applicant may reapply if there is new evidence to overcome the basis for refusal. However, the cause of the refusal is not always clear, and the consular officer does not always explain the basis for the decision.

The non-refundable application fee for a U.S. visa is typically $160 USD. While most embassies allow applicants to pay online, some embassies only take payments in U.S. cash. Additionally, wait times for an embassy appointment can vary greatly by region. The wait for an interview can range anywhere from a few days to several months. Obtaining an interview appointment has proven to be especially difficult for our Iranian applicants in recent years since they must travel to crowded embassies in the United Arab Emirates, Armenia, or Turkey.

The ability of an applicant to obtain a visa can also be affected by U.S. policy changes including the current freeze on visas for nationals from select countries or restrictions in agency funding and quotas. Restrictions, bans and/or additional scrutiny in the screening process currently affect visa applicants from 10 countries, including Iran and Iraq - two countries with applicants admitted to Camp Rising Sun 2018.  

Last year, we wrote specifically about potential policy changes to the J-1 visa that would make hiring summer staff challenging. For more information about the possible changes to the J-1 visa, read InterExchange’s 5 J-1 Exchange Trends We’re Watching in 2018.

LAJF strives to support campers and counselors throughout the visa process. Campers are provided with tips and guidance for how to obtain a visa, and LAJF staff are always available by phone or email to answer questions. If at any point a camper or counselor encounters difficulties in obtaining a visa, we encourage them to contact us as soon as possible so we can assist in a resolution as best we can.


Do you have a question that we didn’t answer? Send us an email at contact@lajf.org

If you’d like to support CRS 2018, please consider:

  • Making a donation to support Camp Rising Sun
  • Visiting camp as a visiting instructor or volunteer counselor  
  • Attending Volunteer Weekend 2018  and help set up tents for CRS 2018
  • Hosting a camper before or after camp in New York City (more details to come via email. Email us at contact@lajf.org to make sure you’re on our email list).