Before COVID-19, summer camps were hosting an average of 25,000 cultural exchange visitors through the BridgeUSA Camp Counselor program each year, filling critical leadership and specialty instructor roles and promoting a positive world view among campers and US-based staff. However, the pandemic resulted in a White House Executive Order in 2020 pausing this cultural exchange program and widespread camp closures last summer.

With the 2021 summer camp season fast approaching and camps working to fill their employment rosters, ACA has been vigilant and continues working tirelessly to overcome the obstacles that remain for BridgeUSA cultural exchange participants wishing to work at camp this summer.

While the Executive Order pausing the BridgeUSA program expired on March 31, potential cultural exchange participants are still hampered by the many travel bans still in effect in many countries due to COVID-19 as well as the number of US embassies overseas that have yet to reopen. Additionally, some consular operations prioritized other visa types over non-immigrant cultural exchange visitor visas for processing.

The good news is that some countries have begun processing visas for BridgeUSA cultural exchange participants, including Colombia, Dominican Republic, Israel, Mexico, and Romania — and the Department of State has waived the in-person interview requirement for anyone who held a J-1 visa in 2020 but did not participate in the program due to COVID-19 restrictions.

What does the current climate mean for camp operators?

  • Camps may have the support of one or more BridgeUSA Camp Counselor participants this summer.
  • Camps should plan on fewer cultural exchange participants than in a normal summer.

ACA will continue to advocate on behalf of camps and push for BridgeUSA Camp Counselor participants to be prioritized and their applications expedited to provide critical support to camps and the children they serve.