Camp America’s response to the Wall Street Journal Article re J1 Visa reviews

Camp America’s official response to the Wall Street Journal Article – 27 August 2017 re Trumps review of the J1 Visa:

For the past 49 years, the Camp America programme has been at the forefront of cultural exchange with the US. Many politicians have spoken of the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and US, we are lucky enough to see this in practice at ground-level every summer. 

In April 2017, the Trump Administration called for a review of the J-1 visa. An article published in the Wall Street Journal on 27th August reports that consideration is being given to major reductions in Camp Counselor J programs. Camp America and our many cultural exchange compatriots should not be afraid of any sensible review of our programmes. It is vitally important that our programmes are well run and are subject to external scrutiny – and we welcome the opportunity to engage in dialogue regarding the impact of the programmes on local employment and global public diplomacy.

Originally established under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961), the J-1 visa programmes main purpose was to strengthen relations between the US and other nations, promote international cooperation for education and cultural advancement and assist in developing peaceful relations between the U.S and other countries.

Established by the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) in 1969, Camp America advanced the AIFS mission to ‘Bring the World Together’ with an opportunity to create a quality cultural exchange program through placement on US summer camps. Summer camps are settings designed to provide countless opportunities for growth in a uniquely personal way. International staff at camp play a significant role in helping campers broaden their horizons, meanwhile they are themselves immersed into a uniquely American tradition that demonstrates all that is best of the spirit, character and ambitions of the American people.

To quote Rodger Popkin, Camp Owner/Director (retired) Blue Star Camps, NC, and President of the American Camping Association 1999- 2002 

‘Real human understanding does not grow without authentic, unscripted personal contact’. 

This is the strength of the Camp Counsellor programs, world youth experiencing America not as tourists but working alongside with and for American youth. Without the benefit of government funding, our program successfully wins global hearts and minds and advances the aims of US public diplomacy. We are confident any review will recommend the continuation of the Camp Counsellor program for these reasons alone, but there are additional reasons to consider.

Camp Counsellor programs will be shown to be well regulated and administered programs that not only make great contributions to enriching the lives of American campers and camp staff, but also make substantial and ongoing contribution economically to the US tourist industry. Importantly Camp Counsellors from the UK and NZ, bring their spending power to often remote rural US locations. 

Post camp travel is often far reaching and financed via funds from home. An Australian government report 2016 measures the financial contribution of 321,000 Working Holiday Makers (WHM) into Australia as almost AUD$3.3 billion in tourist spending. The report further notes, compared to other tourists, WHM’s ‘tend to stay longer, spend more and disperse more widely throughout the country than most other target segments [of tourists]. 

Many will also return to Australia later in life, including with their families or for business. We are confident that a similar in-depth review of J programs in the USA will show similar advantages to the US economy. Similarly, we know through personal experience, that a summer spent working on camp in the US is often the beginning of a lifetime of visits to the USA, to revisit old haunts and explore new areas.

There is nothing like the summer camp counsellor programme anywhere else in the world. It has impacted countless lives – both of the US campers and staff and the students who participate from all over the world. In 2017, we now find that many of the young people participating were encouraged to do so by a parent who took part when they were young, and found it to be a worthwhile and life-enriching experience. These programmes are the bedrock of the special relationship that we now enjoy on a political, economic and sociological level but they need to be continually fostered if we are going to preserve them for generations to come.

We are confident that the summer 2018 program will remain unaffected by this review and we continue to accept applications and conduct our program maintaining the highest service levels to both applicants and Camp Directors. We are confident that the Trump Administration will undertake a considered and far reaching review of all J programs and will find the Camp Counselor program is Good for America and Good for Americans.

Janet Henniker-Talle
Senior Vice President
Camp America, London

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