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International Camp Staff — New State Department Rules for Summer 2012
The U.S. Department of State (State Department) has released additional rules that will impact camps and all organizations that utilize the J-1 Summer Work Travel (SWT) Cultural Exchange Visitor Program. With few exceptions, the rules are effective immediately. The rules impact support staff (kitchen, maintenance, etc.) - not camp counselor staff. The full text of the new rules can be found in the May 22, 2012 issue of the Federal Register.
The American Camp Association (ACA) provides the following information and suggestions to help camps and other organizations better understand the impact of these rules.
Download a copy of all of the details in ACA's Overview and Key Messages sheet.
Key Rule Changes
The most important changes to the program can be categorized into five areas:
- Documentation: The nature of and type of documentation that a camp must provide in order to participate in the program has been expanded.
- Monitoring: Monthly, the program sponsor (usually your placement agency) must communicate with the visa-holder to verify their location and well-being.
- Cultural Exchange Activities: The types of cultural exchange programs that a SWT visa-holder must experience outside of the normal duties of their job have been expanded.
- Prohibited Jobs: The list of jobs that participants cannot do has been expanded.
- Third-Party Involvement: Rules on the involvement in the implementation of the program by third parties have been clarified and expanded.
In order to protect the safety and well-being of visa-holders, the State Department has taken additional steps to ensure that participants are placed in jobs with legitimate, reputable American companies. Organizations must provide proof that they are a legal U.S. business. The new rules require that you provide a copy of the following documents to your placement agency:
- Employer Identification Number (EIN)
- Workers’ compensation insurance policy (or a copy of your exemption from such)
- Business license
Every month, the program sponsor (usually your placement agency) must check on the health, safety, welfare and physical location of visa-holders. The State Department requires that the program sponsor make monthly personal contact with each program participant. Moreover, the program sponsor must document each of these monitoring contacts — which could occur either in-person, by phone, or by e-mail. Participants must respond to these monthly communications or risk being terminated from the program. Termination from the program would be an egregious problem for the foreign national as the possibility that they would ever be able to enter the U.S. again under any kind of visa would be extremely unlikely. The participant would be forever tagged as having been terminated from this program. The turn-around time for participants to respond will be very short — and they must respond themselves (you cannot respond on their behalf). Thus your camp can play a critical role in helping participants to understand the life-changing importance of responding to the monthly contact from the program sponsor.
Cultural Exchange Activities
Program sponsors must ensure that participants in the SWT Program engage in cultural exchange activities that are not a regular part of their job. The State Department has not indicated how many activities a participant must experience — only that visa-holders must participate in “a number” of these activities. In addition, while the State Department has not addressed this issue with regard to J-1 Visa Camp Counselors, you should assume that the same requirement might also apply to them in the future. Thus, ACA recommends including all of your cultural exchange visitors in these activities.
The State Department has offered the following examples of cultural exchange activities:
- Non-work related activities that acquaint the participant with recognized features of U.S. culture and history (e.g., visiting national parks, state parks, historic sites, landmarks, scenic areas).
- Activities that engage participants within the local communities in or near where they work and live.
Sponsors are expected to identify these experiences, but can allow employers and the participants themselves to identify and organize these cultural exchange activities. Some examples to consider include:
- Attending sporting events
- Touring historic sites
- Participating in town hall / city council meetings
- Attending musical performances
- Visiting national parks, state parks, historic sites, landmarks, scenic areas
- Attending political events and rallies
- Visiting amusement venues (water parks, amusement parks)
- Attending local summer fairs and festivals
- Participating in activities at youth or senior centers
- Participating in activities hosted by local volunteer organizations (Habitat for Humanity, Lions Club, Rotary Club, Urban League, etc.)
In order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of J-1 SWT visa-holders, the State Department has expanded the list of jobs into which participants cannot be placed. The two jobs most likely to impact camps are drivers and “night watch” positions. Specifically, participants may no longer fill positions as drivers of vehicles or vessels — regardless of whether or not they carry passengers — nor can they fill positions requiring work hours that fall predominantly between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. For participants who obtained their visa prior to May 11, 2012, this rule does not apply. The State Department recognizes that retroactive enforcement of this rule would be unfair to participants and employers alike.
The State Department has granted forty-nine organizations the designation of “program sponsor” for the SWT Program. (View the list.) Additionally, program sponsors can contract with third-party organizations to implement the program. Your placement agency may either be a program sponsor itself, or a third party that has contracted to work with a program sponsor. The new rules clarify the roles of both the program sponsor and the third party. While this is mainly an administrative issue, it is important that your camp understands the partnerships involved in the implementation of the SWT Program.
- ACA's Overview of the SWT Rule Changes — with all details and key issues for camps and other employers
- ACA's International Staff Best Practices and Resources
- U.S. Department of State J-1 Visa Web Site
- U.S. Department of State List of All Summer Work Travel Program Sponsors