J Visa Camp Counselor Exchange Programs

 

Introduction

The J nonimmigrant visa for exchange visitors is available to foreign nationals who are sponsored by a U.S. Department of State-recognized exchange sponsor to work for a limited period as a camp counselor in the United States. The regulations regarding J nonimmigrant camp counselors are found in 22 C.F.R. 62.30. In this article, we will examine the regulations and DOS guidance found in its Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) primarily at 9 FAM 402.5-6(E)(3) to understand the rules for J nonimmigrant camp counselors.

J Nonimmigrant Camp Counselor

Overview of J Nonimmigrant Camp Counselors

22 C.F.R. 62.30(a) introduces the J nonimmigrant camp counselor regulations. The regulation states that exchange sponsors may “facilitate the entry of foreign nationals to serve in U.S. summer camps.” The purpose of this exchange program category is to “promote international understanding by improving American knowledge of foreign cultures while enabling foreign participants to increase their knowledge of American culture.”

The regulation states that J nonimmigrant camp counselors are best able to meet the objectives set forth in the regulation by “serving as counselors per se.” This means that they should have “direct responsibility for supervision of groups of American youth and of activities that bring them into interaction with their charges.” Here, the regulations make clear that J nonimmigrant status should only be approved for a foreign national to work as a camp counselor if he or she will be supervising children in the camp and interacting with them, for this is essential to the purpose of the program. While the regulation acknowledges that camp counselors will have certain non-counseling chores, it states that the program is not intended to assist camps in bringing foreign nationals to serve as:

  • Administrative personnel;
  • Cooks; or
  • Menial laborers.

We glean from the regulations that the J nonimmigrant visa for camp counselors is designed to facilitate specific interaction between the J nonimmigrant camp counselor and children attending the camp. It is not a work visa program for camps to fill positions that would not be conducive to that interaction.

Rules for J Nonimmigrant Camp Counselors Exchanges

22 C.F.R. 62.30(b) sets forth the requirements for a foreign national to qualify for participation in a camp counselor exchange program. The requirements are as follows:

  1. Foreign national must be at least 18 years of age; and
  2. Must be a bona fide youth worker, student, teacher, or individual with specialized skills.

22 C.F.R. 62.30(b)(2) is a particularly important requirement to bear in mind. The camp counselor exchange program is not open to any admissible foreign national who meets the age requirement, but rather bona fide youth workers, students, teachers, or individuals with specialized skills. A foreign national who does not meet one of those requirements will not be eligible to participate in a camp counselor exchange program.

In selecting participants for a camp counselor exchange program, the sponsor must adhere to all of the requirements found in 22 C.F.R. 62.10(a). Please see our full article for a detailed discussion on 22 C.F.R. 62.10 [see article]. In addition to the requirements in 22 C.F.R. 62.10(a), 22 C.F.R. 62.30(c) requires that sponsors must also, at a minimum:

  1. Conduct an in-person interview with the foreign national; and
  2. Secure references from his or her employer or teacher regarding his or her suitability for participation in a camp counselor exchange.

22 C.F.R. 62.30(d) sets forth orientation requirements for J exchange visitor camp counselors. The regulations require that the sponsor provide participants with the following information before they leave their home country (paraphrased):

  1. Duties and responsibilities relating to service as a camp counselor;
  2. Contractual obligations relating to their acceptance of a position as a camp counselor; and
  3. Financial compensation for their service as a camp counselor.

Exchange visitor camp counselors may only be placed at certain camping facilities. Under 22 C.F.R. 62.30(e), sponsors may only place exchange visitor camp counselors at facilities which are:

  1. Accredited;
  2. A member in good standing of the American Camping Association;
  3. Officially affiliated with a nationally recognized non-profit organization; or
  4. Have been inspected, evaluated, and approved by the sponsor.

A camping facility that does not satisfy 22 C.F.R. 62.30(e) does not qualify for purpose of an exchange visitor camp counselor program.

Under 22 C.F.R. 62.30(f), sponsors must ensure that participants in their exchange program “receive pay and benefits commensurate with those offered to their American counterparts.”

Under 22 C.F.R. 62.30(g), sponsors are required to provide participants in their exchange program with a phone number that allows for 24 hour immediate contact with the sponsor.

22 C.F.R. 62.30(h)(2) requires sponsors to not facilitate the entry of any participant in their exchange program for more than four months. In short, this limits the admission of a J nonimmigrant camp counselor to a maximum period of 4 months.

Under 22 C.F.R. 62.30(h)(3), a sponsor may not facilitate the entry of a participant for whom a camp placement has not been pre-arranged. Sponsors are required to find a qualifying camp placement for the exchange visitor before he or she departs his or her home country for the United States in order to participate in the camp counselor exchange program.

22 C.F.R. 62.30(i) requires sponsors to submit annually a report of all participant placements. This report must be submitted no later than July 1 of each year. This single annual report is in lieu of listing the name and address of the camp facility at which each participant is placed on the Form DS-2019. The annual report must include the following information:

  • Each participant's name;
  • Camp placement; and
  • Number of times that the participant has previously participated in a camp counselor exchange.

22 C.F.R. 62.30(j) requires sponsors to limit the number of participants who have previously participated more than once in a camp counselor exchange to not more than ten percent of the total number of participants in the camp counselor exchange program in the immediate preceding year. In short, while an individual may participate in more than one camp counselor exchange program, sponsors must limit the number of participants annually who have previously participated in more than one camp counselor exchange program. It does not matter whether the previous participation was in the sponsor's own camp counselor exchange.

A J nonimmigrant camp counselor may be subject to the two-year home residency requirement in section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) if his or her program is (see 9 FAM 402.5-6(L)(1):

  • Financed (in whole or in part, directly or indirectly) by a U.S. Government agency or by the foreign national's country of nationality or last legal permanent residence; or
  • The alien at the time of last acquiring J nonimmigrant status was a national or resident of a country designated as requiring the services of persons engaged in the field of specialized knowledge or skill in the 2009 Exchange Visitor Skills List, 1984 Exchange Visitor Skills List, or 1972 Exchange Visitor Skills List.

Before agreeing to participate in a camp counselor exchange program, an individual may seek a consultation as to whether he or she would be subject to section 212(e) of the INA for participation in the particular exchange.

9 FAM 402.5-6(D)(4) instructs DOS officers that J nonimmigrant camp counselors are not expected to be accompanied by dependents. Accordingly, consular officers are instructed to seek guidance if they come across a J2 visa application associated with a J1 camp counselor. This suggests that DOS is unlikely to approve such J2 visa applications.

Under Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations in 8 C.F.R. 214.2(j)(1)(ii), a J nonimmigrant camp counselor may be admitted for a period of up to 30 days prior to his or her reported program start date and have a 30-day grace period for departing after the completion of the camp counselor exchange. However, if the camp counselor's participation is terminated with cause, he or she will be required to depart immediately.

Conclusion

The provisions for camp counselor exchange programs provide a unique opportunity for foreign nationals to work for short periods as camp counselors. In order for participation to be approved, the foreign national and the exchange program must meet the requirements discussed above. Questions regarding program requirements, the effect that a specific program would have on a participant's immigration situation (especially concerning the potential applicability of section 212(e)), or any other immigration-related questions should be directed to an experienced immigration attorney.