J-1 Visas: Camp Counselor and Summer Work Travel Programs

Ralph Forsht
November 2018

The ACA Government Affairs team — consisting of ACA leadership, ACA volunteer leaders, an ACA consultant, and ACA hired lobbyists — continue to vigorously defend the need for and value of J-1 Visa participants at America’s camps. They are collectively engaged at many levels of federal government.

This spring and summer, there were five distinctive engagements with top State Department officials and staff about the importance of quality cultural exchange for America’s camps. This included a meeting with the new Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs, Marie Royce. The quality cultural exchange experiences for camps are always a top priority for State Department officials. They continue to share very complimentary assessments of their experiences with camps, camp directors, and the camp community as a whole.

ACA continues to forge relationships with top Trump Administration officials, including White House personnel in Vice President Pence’s office and the Office of Legislative Affairs. There also was some new outreach in 2018 to the Office of Management and Budget regarding the importance of J-1 Visa Camp Counselor and Summer Work Travel programs.

ACA staff joined a group of YMCA camp directors for a series of Capitol Hill and State Department meetings in March. The YMCA camp directors told members of Congress, congressional staff, and State Department officials about the importance of and need for J-1 participants at their summer camps.

In May, ACA partnered with YMCA-USA and the Foundation for Jewish Camp to conduct the second consecutive Camp Capitol Hill Day. It was a very successful series of meetings and discussions, with important members of Congress and congressional staff once again affirming their commitment to protecting J-1 Visa participants for America’s camps. Collectively, we conducted more than 50 meetings in Washington, and this included discussions with the State Department and White House officials.

Child Protection Improvements Act

The Child Protection Improvements Act (CPIA) was included in the final fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending bill, which enjoyed wide, bipartisan support in Congress. After more than a decade of attempting to pass CPIA, it has finally been advanced to become law. ACA worked very closely with YMCA-USA and the National Mentoring Partnership on CPIA advocacy.

During Camp Capitol Hill Day, ACA created and presented its first ever Champions for Camps Award to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) for their leadership in Congress on behalf of America’s summer camps. ACA volunteer leaders were instrumental in outreach directly to Speaker Ryan and Leader Schumer to have CPIA included in the final legislative package.

ACA will be working with the Department of Justice and the FBI, along with our partners YMCA and MENTOR, to advocate for the successful implementation of CPIA. We will stay engaged in the development of implementing regulations so that they meet the needs of our member camps.

Federal Tax Issues — Impact on Camps

There are two new tax issues (as a result of the new tax package that advanced through Congress at the end of 2017) that could have a major impact on camps:

Employer-provided business meals are now only 50 percent deductible, whereas the employer-provided business meals were previously 100 percent deductible.

Travel and relocation expenses are now taxable compensation for camp employees and volunteers.

During Camp Capitol Hill Day, ACA made the two tax issues a top priority in their discussions with Members of Congress and congressional staff. ACA camp leaders were able to generate a great deal of support for the tax issues. In June, ACA leadership, staff, and lobbyists held a productive meeting at the Treasury Department to discuss the new tax issues. There’s growing awareness about the new tax issues for camps, and ACA is having discussions throughout Washington seeking the best way to address these issues.

Camps on Federal Lands — Minimum Wage

In May, President Trump signed into law as a new executive order (EO) that created an exemption from Executive Order 13658 for Recreational Services on Public Lands, which will greatly help camps that operate on federal lands. The new exemption, which specifically cites camping and youth camps as allowable seasonal recreation services, provides relief from the minimum wage requirements in the original 2014 EO. ACA staff, volunteer leadership, and many ACA members helped to lead ACA’s advocacy efforts to have the EO overturned.

Learn more at whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-exemption-executive-order-13658-recreational-services-federal-lands/

Photo courtesy of International Sports Training Camp, Pocono Mountains, PA