Visas for International Staff and Campers

Annually, nearly 30,000 international students provide cultural exchange as staff at camps in the United States.  International campers also provide an important aspect of cultural exchange as they live side-by-side in US camps with American campers.  

BridgeUSA Cultural Exchange Program Update

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.

Update for the J-1 Visitor Exchange Program

On March 11, 2020, a 60-day travel ban was placed on international exchange programs, including the J-1 program, by the Department of State. United States embassies around the world were also closed. The travel ban is set to expire on May 11. There is no official information at this time whether the ban will be lifted or extended or when US embassies will reopen to process new visas. The Department of State and your visa sponsors are still moving forward to facilitate the J-1 programs. 

Deferrals Lifted for Camp Counselor Category J-1 Visas

Today, the US Department of State officially announced that it is lifting the "deferral" or cap that has been in place for the Camp Counselor category of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program. This means that they will immediately begin processing pending Camp Counselor sponsor expansion requests as well as new sponsor applications for the Camp Counselor category of exchange. I am sure that sponsors will be reaching out to camps about this in the coming days.

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

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.

Testimonials and Stories Needed: J-1 Cultural Exchange Participants and America's Camps

ACA continues to closely monitor developments in Washington with the J-1 Cultural Exchange programs for camp counselors and support staff. These programs are vital to America’s camps and we are determined to defend against any threat to them. ACA leadership and ACA’s Government Affairs team have conducted many important meetings and discussions on Capitol Hill, at the White House, and in the offices of many government agencies to educate our nation’s leaders about the critical importance of international cultural exchange to America’s camps.


It's ironic that I've spent this fall encouraging Americans to advocate for the White House not to drastically reduce or eliminate J-1 visas for camp cultural exchange programs while also keynoting at the 3rd China Camp Education Conference (CCEC) and representing ACA at the 11th International Camping Congress (ICC).

Camp Includes Me: Where Do We Go From Here?

This feature article is the first of an ongoing series of articles in Camping Magazine that will focus on inclusion, diversity, and cross-cultural agility to share in our individual communities and out in the world.

J-1 Visa Update

ACA is monitoring current developments related to the Summer Work Travel and Camp Counselor categories of the J-1 Visa.

Social Security for International Staff

American Camp Association urges camps to abide by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruling and obtain Social Security numbers for all international staff.