Coronavirus (COVID-19) Previous Updates (2020)
On October 1st 2020 a U.S. judge issued an injunction to the June 22nd Presidential Proclamation that suspended certain non-immigrant visa categories, including the J1 visa until December 31st 2020.
While we are still evaluating the full implication and scope of the injunction, for now we understand this to be a positive development in allowing us to facilitate our J1 cultural exchange programs and for the future of U.S. cultural exchange as a whole.
Following the update below on August 17th 2020 we have now rolled over to a new system.
To allow people extra time to defer their application or request a refund within their profile automatically we made the decision to delay the roll over by 3 weeks. The vast majority of participants have now done this.
As of 22nd September 2020 you can no longer defer your application or request a refund directly within your profile.
If you still wish to defer your application or request a refund please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have not yet made a decision about how to proceed with your 2020 summer application please get in touch by September 30th 2020. After that date we may not be able to process any more deferrals or refund requests.
Important reminder: Please defer your application or request a refund before Aug 30th 2020. At that time, due to a system change, you will lose the functionality to do this via your profile and will have to contact team via email or telephone instead.
On June 22nd 2020, The President of the United States signed a new Presidential Proclamation, suspending visas for foreign workers until December 31st 2020. Unfortunately the Proclamation includes the J visa and programs such as intern, trainee, teaching, camp counselor, au pair, or summer work and travel.
Those participants with a valid J1 visa are still able to travel this summer and will be permitted entry into the United States provided they are not traveling from a country with an existing travel suspension or if they have a waiver excluding them from a suspension.
For our deferred participants and people looking to take part in the program next year we are confident that summer 2021 will remain unaffected and the suspension of the J programs will expire following the end of this year.
At Camp Leaders and Smaller Earth we believe that cultural exchange and travel programs are very powerful tools not just to educate individuals about diversity, respect and and the importance of dialogue, but they remove and declassify preconceptions between humans, religions, races and ideologies.
We do not support this most recent suspension and we will continue to work together with our industry to protect and promote cultural exchange programs in the U.S.
A Message from our CEO
Firstly, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone within our community for their continued patience and understanding through this unprecedented and difficult time. Without the unwavering support of our participants, business partners and staff, Smaller Earth would not have been able to navigate through the past few weeks and months.
The difficulties we have faced over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, no matter how challenging they may have been, are far exceeded by the devastating impact the coronavirus has had on families, loved ones and society at large. From the outset of the pandemic, we have remained hopeful but grounded to the realities of the circumstances we all now face. The safety and welfare of our participants and staff has always been on the forefront of our minds. We therefore have been following guidance from governments, health authorities and the local authorities in all the territories we are operating in. Ultimately, despite our best efforts, this summer we will be unable to facilitate travel for the majority of our participants across the globe due to the unprecedented global challenges. The most recent announcement from the US Government, to suspend most J-1 visa categories until the end of the calendar year, further confirms that this summer will be like no other in our 20 year proud history with no US bound cultural exchange programs to be facilitated.
Throughout the pandemic we have taken every measure possible to best serve our participants, partners and staff. Our approach has always been to be a facilitator within the global cultural exchange community and to approach every challenge and difficulty with an open mindset whilst sticking true to our culture and values.
Of course, we are not the only ones in this position. In fact, our partners, summer camps, resorts, visa sponsors, airlines, are all in the same or similar situation. Everyone within the cultural exchange community has made sacrifices to weather the storm.
Our heart goes out to many of our participants who were fully anticipating and thoroughly excited about their big adventure this summer and are now faced with the choices to withdraw from the program or to defer to next season.
Many of the summer camps we work with have made the very tough decision to not open this summer - for the vast majority this is the first time in their extensive history - causing heartache to many children, parents and camp staff in the US.
Our staff, who have put in months of hard work to get thousands of excited participants ready for summer, will not experience the reward of seeing those participants take part in the life changing summer we are all so passionate about.
Smaller Earth is fully committed to continuing to inspire people to go further and is starting the difficult task to plan for the future during very uncertain times. In order to deal with the most recent events and to be set up for the future, we will need to commence a restructure of our business. This restructure includes the difficult decision for staff layoffs and consolidation of some of our country office operations whilst the ongoing pandemic is negatively impacting any kind of travel.
Throughout the past few months, we reached out to as many members of our community as possible to get their opinion and to listen to their concerns, ideas and needs. We fully understand and appreciate that this is a difficult time for our participants, our business partners and our staff. Importantly for us is that this dialogue continue so that we can continue to facilitate our programs in the future with the same innovation and energy that defines our brands.
Cultural exchange and travel programs are very powerful tools not just to educate individuals about diversity, respect and the importance of dialogue, but they remove and declassify preconceptions between humans, religions, races and ideologies. The most recent events, sparked in the US, which very clearly and importantly were echoed in many other countries around the world, did not only confirm our belief that there is a need for our programs in the present and future, but have also raised some much needed self- reflection.
Self-development is one of our values and it is very important for us to reflect on our policies, behaviours (conscious and subconscious) and to embrace the current dialogue to understand what we can do more to further improve our stance and, most importantly, actions on equality issues.
COVID-19 has forced Smaller Earth to restructure, re-build and change. However, we embrace this as an opportunity to re-fresh, re-invent and genuinely address and improve. Whilst the current situation has created truly unforeseen challenges and sacrifices, we are convinced that by sticking to our values, striving for self-development and working together with our community, we will come out of this stronger than before.
Once again, thank you for all your help and support.
CEO, Smaller Earth Group
Thank you for your patience since the beginning of COVID. As you know, many camps have suspended operations for 2020, but others have moved ahead to open their doors for 2020 with advanced safety measures in place. Working closely with our visa sponsors we have tried to remain realistic in facilitating the Camp Leaders program this summer if it was feasible and safe to do so.
At this time, the US Embassies in the UK will most likely not be able to process J1 visa applications through the end of June 2020, the UK Foreign Office has not yet lifted COVID-19 Exceptional Travel Advisory Notice which advises against all but essential travel and the US Presidential Proclamation remains in place restricting entry to the US from the UK and Schengen Area.
While we want to support those who wish to travel, the current travel restrictions, health directives and embassy nonimmigrant visa processing restrictions are unfortunately out of our control.
We realize that this will be disappointing news for many of you as you continue to hope for the opportunity to travel to camp this summer.
Given this announcement, we want to provide guidance on next steps.
First, almost all camps are providing the opportunity for their staff to defer to next summer, so we strongly encourage you to contact your camp and confirm this possibility.
Next, we want to provide simple solutions should you or your camp choose not to continue for this season. When you log into your profile, you will find the possibility to defer to next season or to request a refund. This is now available for all participants who have not already deferred or requested a refund. This feature is not available on our app. Please log in online to defer.
To avoid delays in processing your deferral or refund, we strongly recommend that you select an option from your profile rather than contacting us via email. Our reduced customer service teams are managing a large number of requests, and by accessing the next steps on your account, we will be better able to serve you promptly.
If your camp remains open this summer and you are still interested in taking part in the program with a later start date we encourage you to reach out to your camp and confirm. Once you have done this please get in touch with our team via email.
At this time, the suspension of Exchange Visitor Program arrivals which ran until May 11th has expired and has not been renewed. However arrivals to the USA from the UK, Ireland and the Schengen Area countries continue to be prohibited under the Presidential Proclamations on March 11th and 14th.
Important information about entry into the US
You can not enter the US on your Exchange Visitor Program visa without prior approval from your visa sponsor. Your visa sponsor must reconfirm your placement and health and safety measures in place at your camp.
If your camp contract length is shortened due to a change of arrival dates or COVID-19 you will still receive our guaranteed minimum pocket money. These amounts can be found in your program agreement.
If you are on our flights included program our in-house flight team will work on any changes or updates required for your trip - there are no actions required from yourself at this time. Our team will contact you before making any changes to your flight booking.
US Embassy Visa Interviews
We are in regular contact with the US Embassy. At this point, the US Embassy in London has cancelled nonimmigrant visa appointments and no visa appointments will take place at the Consulate in Belfast. They plan to resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time. We will inform you as we receive more information and if this changes.
If you wish to defer your application please log in to your account and follow the steps on your home screen. This feature is not available on our app. Please log in online to defer.
If your camp has been cancelled please log in to your account and follow the steps on your home screen. This feature is not available on our app. Please log in online for camp cancellations.
As always, your safety is our main priority and we will not facilitate summer travel if it is unsafe to do so. This decision is reviewed on a regular basis following the advisories from the US Department of State, our visa sponsors, government authorities and public health authorities.
We are aware of the latest government announcement of the roadmap to reopen society.
At this time, the roadmap does not yet include confirmation on travel abroad or specifically travel to the U.S. for the purposes of cultural exchange this summer. We are reviewing the situation on a daily basis and as we hear more from either the U.K. Government or the U.S. Department of State we will update you.
As always, your safety is our main priority and we will not facilitate summer travel if it is unsafe to do so. This decision is reviewed on a regular basis following the advisories from the U.S. Department of State, our visa sponsors, government authorities and public health authorities.
Following on from our update earlier this week, we have listened to those in our community who asked us for the option to defer their 2020 application.
From today, participants that do not yet have a place at camp or are no longer able to travel can now defer their application easily within their profile without needing to email the Camp Leaders team.
We understand that some of you may have already set plans for summer 2021 so we are extending deferrals to summer 2022. For those that choose to defer, we are excited to get you to camp in the future.
If you wish to defer your application please log in to your account and follow the steps on your home screen. This feature is not available on our app. Please log in online to defer.
Thank you for your support and understanding as we navigate this challenging time together.
In this unprecedented time, we appreciate that many people have their own challenging situations and we want to support you where we can.
Based on the feedback of some of those on the program, we are currently working on a system that will allow participants to defer their applications to the summer of 2021 or 2022 if they do not yet have a place at camp or are no longer able to travel.
Due to our heavily reduced staff force, we are building a solution to allow you to self defer within your profile without having to call or wait for an email response. We expect this to be live by May 1st and you will receive an email update when the deferral system is available for you.
Please note, Camp Leaders is not suspending the program. The majority of camps we work with are gearing up for the summer, adjusting their operations or moving their start dates later, but nonetheless they are excited to welcome their campers and international staff. Therefore we encourage you to stay on the program at this point.
Your safety is our main priority and we will not facilitate summer travel if it is unsafe to do so. This decision is reviewed on a regular basis following the advisories from the U.S. Department of State, our visa sponsors, national government authorities and public health authorities.
The options for participants with camp cancellations remain unchanged.
As always, thank you for your patience and support.
Thank you for your ongoing patience and support.
We are currently prioritising assistance for participants who were due to depart prior to May 12th. Following that we will be prioritising support based on upcoming depart dates.
With the ever-changing nature of this unprecedented situation a lot remains uncertain as we face the coming weeks and months. At this point, we wanted to try and provide you with some certainty around a few key areas:
We are awaiting an update from the U.S. Department of State in regards to the current suspension of the Exchange Visitor Program (issued on March 13th). We expect to receive this mid-May and will update you shortly thereafter. As stated from the outset of the pandemic - we will not facilitate travel if it is deemed unsafe to do so - this will be determined by government and public health authorities, the U.S. Department of State and visa sponsors. Your safety is our highest priority. We will only suspend the program in the instance where it is unsafe to travel or travel is not logistically possible (e.g air travel is suspended). We must remain optimistic for the summer. Hundreds of thousands of children, now more than ever, need your support to learn new skills, build new relationships and have fun this summer. Departure dates at any point in May are extremely unlikely based on embassy closures and the Exchange Visitor Program suspension. Please be prepared for all departure dates to be moved into June or July. We will be in touch to confirm any departure date changes. The vast majority of our camps have not cancelled their summer programs. Roughly 98% of our 500+ camps are making the appropriate preparations for this summer including amending their start date to later in the summer, and the implementation of new safety measures for those attending camp. Nonimmigrant visa appointments at the U.S Embassy remain suspended - we expect appointments to resume soon after the U.K. Government lifts the stay at home quarantine measures. Once we receive more information from the embassy we will update you. Our Online Preparation Days will be released in the coming days. We have already received many questions regarding President Trump’s recent announcement regarding a ban on U.S. immigration. Please be aware that the Exchange Visitor Program is a nonimmigrant cultural exchange program. This program is currently suspended until May 11th at which point the U.S. Department of State and ECA will review the situation. At this point, we do not believe President Trump’s recent statement will directly affect the Camp Leaders program.
If your camp has cancelled your placement please email us at email@example.com
We continue to operate with a heavily reduced level of staff and ask that anyone not due to depart in the near future, and those not affected by a camp cancellation help us by waiting for us to contact them first. We will continue to update this page as we receive more information. For answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding coronavirus please see below.
Together we are facing unprecedented times of change. The situation is evolving daily and like many other businesses out there we are taking each day as it comes, usually with new challenges we never imagined having to face.
Unfortunately, over the past few days and weeks a small number of our partner camps in the U.S. have cancelled their summer program. This is extremely sad news for everyone involved, from the campers to the international staff. (Please see below if you have been affected by a camp cancellation.)
For the vast majority of placements, we are still preparing to facilitate travel this summer and we continue to work closely with our partners in the U.S. to ensure everything will be ready when the time comes. In some cases, dates, times and travel arrangements may change as different camps deal with different challenges so we ask that you continue to remain as positive, open and flexible as possible.
Understandably, lots of you are wondering what happens if travel bans are not lifted or social distancing continues. Whilst we know people are searching for definitive answers about potential scenarios we believe the best approach is for us to work with the information we have available now whilst also monitoring the situation closely, following guidance from the U.S. Department of State and making decisions with your safety as our utmost priority.
The coming days, weeks and months will no doubt be very challenging for us and for the camp community as a whole but together we remain committed to inspiring people to go further and to positively impact the world through cultural exchange.
As we move past coronavirus, when the lockdowns are lifted and the borders are opened it is going to be more important than ever that we remain steadfast in our mission to provide life-changing experiences that bring people together from different countries, backgrounds and cultures.
Thank you for your continued support and positivity.
What are the next steps if your camp has cancelled your placement?
At this point, the majority of our participants remain unaffected. For the small number of participants affected, please read on.
The long-standing policy within our program agreement has always been, no refunds if there are cancellations due to events that are out of Camp Leaders control. These include natural disasters, sickness or quarantine or governmental restrictions and regulations. However, we believe in supporting our community during this difficult time and will offer three options for those affected by camp cancellations:
- Find an alternative camp placement in summer 2020
If you are still interested in going to camp this year we will do our best to find you an alternative placement. However, it’s important to note with the challenging and changing nature of coronavirus this may take longer than expected or may not be possible in some cases. If an alternative placement is not possible you will still be eligible for options 2 or 3.
- Defer your application to summer 2021
Where possible we ask that you defer your application to 2021. If you wish to defer your application to next summer we will move your application and the fees you have paid to summer 2021. Without a doubt Camp Leaders will be going ahead next summer, in fact, we have already started work on 2021, as we do at this point every year.
- Review your refund options
We can review your options for a refund. This will be done on a case-by-case basis and will be based on the services you have already received, your application stage and how much you have paid.
If you have been affected by a camp cancellation our team will be in touch directly with you to discuss how you would like to proceed. We continue to receive a high volume of queries so we ask that anyone who has not been affected by a camp cancellation or is not due to travel in the near future please do not contact us except in cases of an emergency.
If you have not been affected by a camp cancellation then your standard program agreement terms and conditions apply.
At Camp Leaders, we know that the unprecedented global situation we all face is challenging every aspect of our day-to-day lives.
As a travel-based company, while it’s difficult for us to witness the world on lockdown, with social distancing and travel bans commonplace, we firmly believe in the measures being taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities.
At this point, we wanted to take the time to update you on what is happening behind the scenes at Camp Leaders and Smaller Earth:
The Exchange Visitor Program, the visa on which the Camp Leaders program operates, is suspended until May 11th. All departure dates prior to this have been rearranged to later dates. Our team, who are working remotely from their homes all across the globe, are continuing to work diligently alongside our American visa sponsors and partner camps to prepare for the upcoming summer. Our goal of providing a life changing summer experience has not changed, and our partner camps remain excited to welcome international staff. Your start dates, travel arrangements, visa appointments and length of time at camp, may change over the coming days and weeks as we navigate our way through this unprecedented situation. With this we ask that you continue to remain as positive, open and flexible as possible. Due to the coronavirus outbreak we are operating with reduced levels of staff. This is having an impact on communication response times and capacity. We ask that anyone who is not due to travel in the near future help us by waiting for us to contact them first. Where possible please use our online help section and coronavirus FAQs (see below). Our utmost priority is the safety of our participants, staff, and partners, and we will only facilitate travel if it is safe to do so. We are following the advice and information from the U.S Department of State, local government authorities, and our partner visa sponsors and camps. As a precautionary measure, we are working on alternative plans for the unlikely instance that it is not safe for the program to go ahead. Further information will be released in the near future. As of now (31/03/20) the Camp Leaders program is still going ahead and standard program agreement terms apply. Most importantly, we would like to thank our participants, partners and staff for their overwhelmingly positive response during these difficult times. We have received many positive messages via phone, email, and livechat, as well as on our social media pages. Although the near future may be uncertain for us all, we are reminded that positivity, kindness, and cultural exchange are here to stay.
Based on the current situation of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Camp Leaders have made the decision to pause all new applications for summer 2020 effective immediately. Any applications started before 17th March will be unaffected and can continue forward as normal. All new applications from 17th March 2020 will be deferred until further notice.
This decision has been made to allow us to provide our current applicants with the high standard of customer care and service we pride ourselves on.
Our summer camps are continuing to operate and are excited to welcome Camp Leaders participants this summer, and as ever, we’re excited to support you on your summer of a lifetime.
The Camp Leaders team will be reaching out directly to every applicant over the coming days and weeks, to ensure that you are supported through this challenging global situation.
Across many countries in Europe, the US Embassy has postponed visa interview appointments until further notice. We are monitoring this situation and are in close contact with our visa sponsors. We expect the postponement to last approximately 30 days.
At this time we ask that you continue to move forward with your application. Please complete all available sections to ensure you are ready when visa interview appointments are re-opened.
If you have a visa appointment scheduled on or before 16th April, the Camp Leaders team will reach out to you directly. We recommend that all applicants wait to be contacted about their visa appointments.
On March 13th the US Department of State announced the temporary pause of international exchange programs due to COVID-19. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) will temporarily pause all ECA funded programs. This has also been extended to privately funded programs which includes the Exchange Visitor Program, the visa on which the Camp Leaders program operates. This temporary pause is expected to last 60 days.
At Camp Leaders we will continue to work towards our May and June departures and expect there to be limited impact on travel to camp.
If you have a departure date that falls before May 11th 2020 our team will be directly in touch with you.
If you are not due to travel on or before May 11th we recommend that you wait before contacting us with Coronavirus related queries to ensure we have the latest information available for your travel.
On March 11th President Trump signed a Presidential Proclamation which suspends the entry of most foreign nationals who have been in certain European countries at any point during the 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States.
This proclamation is expected to last 30 days and applies to the countries located in the Schengen area.
Travel from the UK remains unaffected at this point, provided you have not travelled in a Schengen area in the last 14 days.
At Camp Leaders we will continue to work towards our May and June departures and expect there to be limited to no impact on travel to camp.
If you are currently in one of the areas affected and/or have a departure date that falls before the 11th April 2020 our team will be directly in touch with you.
If you are not due to travel in the near future we recommend that you wait before contacting us with Coronavirus related queries to ensure we have the latest information available for your travel.
Camp Leaders are committed to the welfare and safety of our participants and have been monitoring the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation closely.
We are staying informed on WHO, CDC, Foreign Office and Public Health England advisories as well as updates from our US team, partners and camps. At this time based on the guidelines and information from the sources outlined above, the Camp Leaders programme will be going ahead as planned for summer 2020.
We will continue to monitor the situation closely and provide updates if the situation is to change.