International J-1 Participants at Camp and COVID-19 Vaccine

Sharon Kosch
Airbus A220 preparing to land

Many camps are asking if they can expect their J-1 exchange participants, both camp counselors and support staff, to have been vaccinated against COVID-19 when they arrive at camp in 2021. 

Every country has its own priorities and procedures for dealing with available vaccine. Most are prioritizing the most vulnerable first, dealing with numerous virus variants and mitigating a shortage of vaccine. No one can guarantee that any specific participant from any country will arrive fully vaccinated. Nor can any sponsor or agent in the home country or in the US provide vaccines for those participants either before departure from their home country or upon arrival in the US. Vaccination distribution and administration is a public health function in all countries and decision-making protocols surrounding availability and access are determined by those officials. Out-of-school time staff, including camp staff, are prioritized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US and that recommendation is being followed in many states. Other states have made different determinations. CDC has no authority in any other country and at this time, there is no vaccination requirement for entry into the US. All air passengers coming to the United States, including US citizens, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board a flight to the US.

If your camp is recommending staff be vaccinated against COVID:

  • Communicate with your international participants about the vaccine situation in their home country. Do they expect to be included in any eligible group before their departure? If so, what vaccine and when? Will they have completed their series before arrival?
  • Review your staff schedule. When are your participants arriving at your camp? How long before your campers arrive? Have you investigated whether it is possible, in your jurisdiction, to facilitate vaccine access upon arrival at your camp? Many states and/or local jurisdictions require that individuals be living or working in that local area in order to be vaccinated. There is no citizenship requirement. Some J-1 participants in other categories have received vaccines in the US. Later in the spring, vaccines should be more easily obtainable for those who want it in most US locations. Do remember that countries use differing vaccines which require different schedules and that their home country vaccine may not be available in the US if they are trying to complete a series. Check with local public health authorities to explore options in your area. Always consult with the participant, your sponsor, your camp medical director, and local experts when considering this option.
  • Plan ahead for staff who arrive without being vaccinated. This plan should treat all unvaccinated staff, including international participants, in the same way. Consult with your HR advisors and attorneys to make sure the plan is appropriate and communicate the plan to staff, including international participants.

If your camp is requiring all staff to be vaccinated against COVID to work at your camp:

  • Review your staff criteria. Have you consulted your attorney and insurance company about this decision. There are differing interpretations among labor attorneys about whether you can legally make this requirement a condition of employment because of the emergency approval status of the current vaccines in the US. J-1 participants should be treated just as your American staff are treated. Once you have made your decision, be sure all staff, including international participants, are informed in advance.
  • Reconsider the use of J-1 participants. If individual international participants cannot meet your vaccination requirement, alert them and your sponsor immediately so they can be placed in another camp that can accommodate them.