2018 Public Policy Update: J-1 Visas, CPIA, Camps on Federal Lands

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

  • In March, ACA’s volunteer leadership traveled to Washington for discussions with top State Department staff about the necessity of J-1 Visa participants for America’s camps. The quality cultural exchange experiences for camps and the J-1 Visa participants are always a top priority for State Department officials.
  • 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. 
  • ACA leadership held important meetings and discussions about J-1 Visa participants with State Department officials ACA’s national conference in Orlando and at the Tri-State Conference in New Jersey. ACA continues to build a strong bond with numerous State Department officials.
  • ACA partnered with YMCA and the Foundation for Jewish Camp to conduct Camp Capitol Hill Day on May 16–17. It was a very successful series of meetings and discussions, with important, bipartisan Members of Congress once again affirming their commitment to protecting J-1 Visa participants for America’s camps. Collectively, we conducted more than 40 meetings in Washington, and this included discussions with the State Department and White House officials.
  • ACA leadership and staff met numerous times with high-ranking White House officials about the possible Trump Administration action on J-1 visa programs.  ACA was informed that the White House remains focused on the larger, big picture immigrations issues — DACA, refugees, children/families at the border, etc.
  • ACA leadership, staff, and lobbyists met with Assistant Secretary Marie Royce and State Department Education and Cultural Affairs staff to discuss the J-1 Visa Camp Counselor and Summer Work Travel (SWT) programs. In the meeting, Secretary Royce was very supportive of the Camp Counselor program and its positive cultural exchange experiences. ACA leadership explained the virtues of the Camp Counselor and SWT programs and described how the J-1 Visa participants are a critical component to the total camp community. Secretary Royce shared some of her thoughts on the value of J-1 Visa participants at camps:  Leadership, team work, diversity, exposure to world, creating citizen ambassadors, etc.

Child Protection Improvements Act

  • The Child Protection and Improvements Act (CPIA) was included in the final Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus spending bill, which enjoyed wide, bipartisan support in Congress. CPIA will allow all states to have access to national and federal background checks for all people who work with vulnerable populations. 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. 
  • A new bipartisan letter from House of Representatives CPIA supporters went to the Department of Justice in late September. The House letter asks for the Department of Justice to provide a public comment period to solicit input from organizations serving vulnerable populations. The House letter also asks for the development of a request for proposal (RFP) to seek applications from eligible entities. Senator Orin Hatch’s office has pledged to lead a similar Senate letter after the November elections.

Camps on Federal Lands — Minimum Wage

  • On May 25, President Trump signed into law an exemption from Executive Order (EO) 13658 for Recreational Services on Public Lands, which will greatly help camps that operate on federal lands. EO 13658, signed in 2014, established a higher minimum wage and overtime requirement for federal contractors and permit holders. Many camps partner with the US Forest Service and the National Park Service as outfitter-guides.
  • The new EO exemption, which specifically cites camping and youth camps as allowable seasonal recreation services, provides relief from the minimum wage provisions in the original EO 13658. This was necessary and needed to preserve the educational opportunities that camps are currently providing for our children. ACA staff and volunteer leadership helped to lead ACA’s advocacy efforts to have the EO overturned.