You are viewing our US website. If you are a participant looking to take part in the program, please select your country.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) US Camp Update

Date: May 26, 2020

Dear friends,

I wanted to provide an important update from Camp Leaders as we all move into the summer months. Many of you continue to forge ahead for summer 2020, and for that, we continue to stand side-by-side to help the puzzle pieces fall into place. For those of you who have made the difficult decision to suspend camp for 2020, know that while our hearts are heavy with you, we also sense the building crescendo of positivity as 2021 becomes your focus. In either case, Camp Leaders is here and moving forward with the same optimism and prudence that currently defines our industry.

Among the many considerations for each of us is the financial equation for our organizations. As promised, we are committed to working within our values to provide options that support our partnership. In acknowledgment of these difficult circumstances, we have fully re-evaluated our cancellation fees and timelines to help lessen the burden to camps and provide flexibility for both you and Camp Leaders. In the coming days and weeks, Ivy Cohen and I will be connecting individually with each camp to outline the costs and options. We are choosing to take a more personalized approach based on the many unique circumstances that have resulted from Covid-19. With that said, please know that our framework will be consistent among all camps, and we look forward to the conversations that support a shared future.

Despite the difficult circumstances, I wake up daily with an optimism and resolve knowing that this voyage, too, will end on welcoming shores, just as all voyages do when you set sail with good company and a steadfast belief in the value of the journey itself.


Michael Thompson

US Director - Camp Leaders

Date: May 13, 2020

Dear Friends,

Our team hopes you and your loved ones continue to be safe and healthy. As summer draws near, we are well-aware the path to opening camp in it's traditional sense has narrowed, and others have already made the painful decision to suspend in-person programming for 2020. We are here to support you, regardless of how you determine to move forward with your program or staff for this summer.

On Monday, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) extended the suspension of ECA-funded programs indefinitely. This does not, however, impact the Camp Leaders program or other privately funded exchange programs like Camp Counselor and Summer Work Travel. Advice could come at any time for privately funded programs like ours, but for now, the program pause has expired, so we will move forward with our programs as planned.

All Camp Leaders participants have the option to defer to 2021 or 2022. We are allowing participants to take advantage of this deferral option if they feel unsettled by traveling this summer or if their placement gets canceled. Thank you to those of you who have reached out in support of this option. We hope it provides you with a foundation for your 2021 staffing needs, in addition to providing peace of mind to participants.

With regard to the participants who do not yet have visas. It is still unclear when consular affairs will resume visa appointments, and we have received no update as to a possible interview waiver for participants who already have a DS2019 form or are returning participants. We would encourage you to be prepared and plan accordingly based on the latest information. Based on what we know now, we recommend you do not make plans for anyone to arrive prior to June 15. Earlier arrivals may be possible for Canadians.

If you have a participant with a visa, we encourage you to communicate with them frequently to ensure you are aware of their travel plans. Travel bans are still in place for non-US Citizens and Permanent Residents entering the USA from the UK, Ireland and Schengen Area containing most of mainland Europe. We are requesting other participants hold off on their travel when possible, until a firm decision is made as to whether or not your camp will operate this summer. If you have a participant who is planning to travel before June 15, please notify us.

We will keep you informed with any changes to the anticipated arrival timeline, travel bans and any new updates from consular affairs. In the coming weeks, we will share a supplement to our 2020 Program Agreement for camps who intend to host participants this summer. For those of you who have already decided on amended start dates, please fill out this survey to provide us the most up to date information.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Ivy Cohen

Camp Leaders Program Manager

Date: May 5, 2020


As the weeks continue to roll on, Camp Leaders has pushed forward on behalf of our camps and participants who are looking forward to summer 2020. As time goes on, it has become clear that this summer will look different because of the impact of Covid-19.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen the mood shift amongst some of our participants from excitement to concern. It has always been our goal to recruit participants who are eager for life-changing cultural exchange and we know camps can facilitate this in a transformative way. It is difficult to ignore the hurdles that COVID-19 has presented for that goal. If it is safe to do so, we are still committed to facilitating the summer for as many participants as possible. However, we also want to ensure that participants feel supported should they not feel comfortable traveling due to health, financial, family or other personal reasons.

In participants’ interests, and so you can prepare for your summer accordingly, we have begun to roll out a deferral option for participants in the UK and Ireland to postpone participation in the Camp Leaders program until 2021 or 2022. We will be rolling out a similar option in other countries soon. It is our hope that by simplifying the process for those participants who know they will not travel they will see that Camp Leaders and the camp community as a whole have their best interest in mind.

Similar to a placement withdrawal, we will inform you when one of your hired staff wishes to defer, confirm whether or not you’d like to hire them back for 2021 (no pressure) and remove them from your placements. Although we know some of you are a few weeks out from making a decision about camp this summer, we want you to have the most up-to-date information about your summer staff.

Thank you for your partnership as we offer support to participants who have made the decision that is best for their personal situation in these difficult times.

If you have any questions, as always, please do not hesitate to be in touch.


Ivy Cohen

Camp Leaders Program Manager

Date: April, 30 2020


Following our webinar last week, many of you reached out with interest in getting more involved in advocacy efforts for the J-1 program. You now have an important opportunity to do so.

The Alliance for International Exchange represents a large number of cultural exchange organizations, including Smaller Earth and our visa sponsor partners. They have just circulated a call to action for the J1 program in light of the Presidential Proclamation last week. Here is a helpful Fact Sheet on that proclamation.

The Alliance has made this advocacy simple. Simply click this link, fill in a few boxes and you will be taken to a prewritten letter for you to submit with one click. Please consider joining this letter writing campaign to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the Administration to exclude international exchange programs from any future executive action suspending employment-based immigration.

You’re two clicks away from making your voice heard. Thank you in advance for joining this important advocacy effort.


Michael Thompson

US Director, Camp Leaders

Date: April 24, 2020

Below are a few of the most recent government updates regarding COVID-19 and travel.

Presidential Proclamation : the recent Presidential Proclamation does not currently include J-1 and other non-immigrant visas in its suspension. The proclamation does state the following: Sec. 6. Additional Measures. Within 30 days of the effective date of this proclamation, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall review nonimmigrant programs and shall recommend to me other measures appropriate to stimulate the United States economy and ensure the prioritization, hiring, and employment of United States workers. We are closely following advice from the Alliance for International Exchange, and will be in touch regarding advocacy efforts.

Travel Ban in Australia : there is currently a travel ban preventing Australian citizens from leaving Australia. This ban is official and currently has no expiration date; however, participants are able to schedule appointments at the US Embassy in Australia for June.

Travel Ban Between the US and Mexico : the travel ban between the US and Mexico has been extended until May 19. The US embassies in Mexico are accepting emergency appointment bookings for non-Immigrant visas. We are encouraged to hear a few participants have been granted May appointments, and encourage you to reach out to us if you hear of participants whose appointment requests have been granted.

Date: April 16, 2020

Dear friends,

I trust that this update finds you healthy and connected with those close to you. I continue to be amazed by the resourcefulness, openness and determination of our remarkable camp community. In those moments when the weight of the situation seems to be bearing down, conversations with you, the camp community, have lessened that weight and even provided some levity in the face of our shared challenges.

I’d like to invite you to join Ivy Cohen and me next week for a live video presentation about Camp Leaders plans for this season. Among the topics we will address are the current state of affairs for Camp Leaders and the larger cultural exchange community, the operational tactics we’ve made to prepare for summer 2020 and beyond, and the financial implications for us, our participants and for you, our camp partners.

The purpose of the presentation is to gather with you in the spirit of partnership and provide some clarity for the many questions we’ve received from camps, as well as offer insight into the different scenarios we are assessing. We want to be as transparent as possible, even while there are many external factors that have yet to be resolved. To further frame your expectations, we do not plan to present you with any breaking news about the J-1 program for 2020, or the long-term plans for Camp Leaders. We remain hopeful the J-1 program for camps will proceed in some form for 2020, and that Camp Leaders will continue to provide you with qualified staff for your camps this summer and beyond.

Please register for the live video presentation below by clicking the link. We anticipate a large audience, in which case we will likely segment our audience into cohorts of similar profiles (i.e. residential camps, day camps, etc.) When you register, you will also have an opportunity to submit questions that you’d like for us to address. In addition, we will take time to answer questions submitted via live chat.

We will email you directly on Monday morning with the day and time of the presentation. You can plan that the presentation will be on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning, depending on the number of registrations. We will circulate a recording of the presentation at the end of next week.

Thanks and look forward to hearing back from you.


Michael Thompson

US Director, Camp Leaders

Date: April 2, 2020

Dear friends,

These are extraordinary times which have led to unprecedented challenges for the camp and the cultural exchange industries. Amid the uncertainty caused by the spread of COVID-19, I’ve been heartened by the many notes and calls of support we’ve received at Camp Leaders.

While we recognize the shape of your summer may still evolve, I am writing to keep you updated on our key commitments to you, our camp partners.

Ensure the safety and health of our staff and participants, and Camp Leaders.

As many of you know, we moved to remote working for all Camp Leaders staff globally. We will also work with our camp partners to navigate any new or revised local or other government regulations regarding your camp community’s health and safety for the coming season.

We want to be transparent that the current situation has necessitated an assessment of our global operations at Camp Leaders. We have worked very closely with our program and country leads to ensure that we deliver the same level of service you have come to expect, and to ensure that participants remain committed to their plans. As governmental and legislative changes occur among the many territories, we continue to adjust our sails. In the meantime, you may continue to email your contact as always and a team member will be back in touch with you. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work through these circumstances.

Continue down the path of providing exceptional staff for your camp this summer.

The Camp Leaders program will continue unless it is prohibited to do so by governmental restrictions. Among the many steps we are taking is to actively advocate alongside our cultural exchange partners to remove or limit any barriers to fulfilling the summer, including visa appointment scheduling. As always, our priority is to work with our camp partners to deliver another outstanding summer for children since we know your staff are tantamount to creating that success.

Maintaining and encouraging connection among camps, our participants and Camp Leaders.

Despite the challenging times, or perhaps because of them, it is my hope that each of us will redouble our efforts to reach out and stay connected. Being engaged with your participants, as many of you already have been, will go a long way to ensuring that they will join you this summer. Our decision a couple of weeks ago to close recruitment globally reflects our commitment to doing the same; shifting our near-term focus to encouraging participants to stay the course.

I can’t begin to express the gratitude we feel from the notes of encouragement that we’ve received. We’re also so appreciative to those who have reached out to reassure participants directly. As we’ve said from the beginning, we’re in this with you. And, having heard the same refrain from so many camp directors, please know that the message strengthens our resolve and determination. Thank you, and let’s please stay connected and stay healthy.


Michael Thompson

US Director, Camp Leaders

Date: March 20, 2020

What do the different Visa statuses mean?

Under the ‘Visa’ section of ‘my placements’ there are different status indicators that you can see for your participants.

  1. Added to template/ready to batch: country office has started the process for a participants DS2019 form (early stages).

  2. Applied for: participant’s DS2019 form is being processed by their visa sponsor.

  3. Received by sponsor: visa sponsor has printed the participants DS2019 form.

  4. Sent-by-sponsor: participant’s DS2019 form has been sent by the visa sponsor to the country office. If the participant lives where we do not have an office, the DS2019 form is sent directly to the participant.

  5. Received by Office: country office has received the participant’s DS2019 form from the US based visa sponsor.

  6. Sent-by-office: country office has sent the DS2019 form to the participant.

  7. ---- OR (blank): participant has documents outstanding and is not ready to have their DS2019 form run.

There is also a column called ‘has visa’. If this section has a green tick mark, or says the word ‘true’ the participant has confirmed they have their visa in hand. Once the arrival suspension is lifted, these participants will be ready to enter the US.

How will participants be prioritized when the embassies reopen?

Things might look different in each country. Internally, it is our goal to get the participants slotted in for their visa appointments based on the earliest arrival dates. This will only be possible if all their documents are ready to go. We are continuing to run visa paperwork and ship DS2019 forms in order to speed up the process when the time comes.

The best way to assist your participants is to continue to urge them to upload all their visa paperwork. This way, when restrictions are lifted they are ready to head to the embassy.

Are they allowed to have digital DS2019 forms?

Under current regulations, participants must have a hand-signed, printed version of their DS2019 form, which is why we carry out such a meticulous process to make sure the forms are tracked at every step.

Date: March 19, 2020


I hope everyone is settling into a daily routine in this temporary new normal, and of course, that you and your loved ones are staying healthy. It has been uplifting in this uncertain time to catch up with so many of you. This industry is resilient, and your energy and enthusiasm to forge ahead with your summers with minimal interruption has reminded us of that resilience each day. We remain determined as ever to match you with great staff for your programs, and support you however we are able. At this point we continue to look toward a successful Summer 2020.

In an effort to keep you fully updated on developments going forward, we will be posting updates to a special website which you can access here. The same websites exist in each country where we operate, so you can also see the regular updates participants are receiving.(as an example, the website for UK participants is here). Many of you have asked, in light of embassy closures and travel restrictions, how you can be most proactive in helping ensure a timely arrival for your staff when these bans are lifted. Below are some helpful resources and suggestions that I hope you find useful.

Ivy Cohen

Camp Leaders Program Manager

How do I know if my staff member is ready to go to the embassy?

It is very important that participants have completed and uploaded all of their documents to facilitate a smooth and fast visa process. Head to your Camp Leaders profile, click on ‘My Placements’ and the gray button which says ‘Documents’. There you can see your participants’ progress on uploading their documents. You should check this for both confirmed (yellow) and placed (green) staff members. Our goal is to have everyone fully sorted with their documents when the embassies reopen, leaving the visa to be the only remaining item to take care of.

Do you know when the embassies will reopen?

We are hopeful each embassy closure will be no more than 14-30 days. Some of your staff may be seeing no availability for appointments until July. Please encourage them that Camp Leaders and their visa sponsor will be there to support them in scheduling their appointments when the embassies reopen. Our country offices, CHI and the other sponsors feel strongly about their relationships with the embassies, and it will be a collaborative effort when things are up and running to assist participants with arriving on time to camp.

Are you taking new applications?

We have made the decision to halt recruitment worldwide so our teams can focus all their efforts on providing excellent support to our existing participants. Our goal is to ensure that participants stay on the Camp Leaders program so we have focused our energy on engaging and supporting those who are already on the program or in the process of joining the program. There are many young people who are still working through their application process and are eager to find their summer home. Feel free to continue sending staffing needs over to your Camp Leaders Relationship Manager, or to me.

We are also happy to accept your Direct Placements and second-year returning counselors, even if they have not begun the application process yet. Please make sure they have a camp contract when they apply.

How do you feel?

Like many of you, the Camp Leaders team is living through an ever evolving situation. We continue to be optimistic that summer will happen. We are motivated and inspired by the creativity we’ve seen with camps offering activities for their campers on Zoom and Facebook Live. Each time we touch base with you we are encouraged by your shared optimism. So, despite all of the changes and challenges, please keep in touch -- we love hearing from you.

Date: March 13, 2020

Dear camp friends and colleagues,

I am just back from Tri-State Conference and was grateful for the time to speak with many of you personally.  The conference certainly shows the resilience of the industry in what has been quite a week for truly an unprecedented time. I write today to assure you that we are continuing to monitor the changing landscape precipitated by the spread of COVID-19. 

We are in close communication with our visa sponsors to ensure that we move forward where possible with the summer as planned.  While we can’t predict what will happen next, we can prepare. The top priority for us is, and will continue to be, the health and safety of our participants and our staff.  Additionally, it is to continue to work closely with you, our camp partners, to adjust to any changes that may emerge.  

This morning, the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) asked sponsors to pause arrivals on all J-1 Exchange Visitors for 60 days, beginning today. We are assessing this guidance to determine next steps, and it again demonstrates that the situation continues to evolve.  Because of this, we encourage you to stay informed, and we appreciate your patience as we address the changes that emerge.  Please know that we will be quick to communicate directly with you any recommendations beyond those shared by the US government or our visa sponsors.

Over the past 20 years, Camp Leaders was founded and has existed in rapidly changing industries of cultural exchange and camping.  This experience has provided us with knowledge that has always informed our innovative solutions for the camp industry. It is our hope that you will reach out to us to share any changes that may happen in your program as the summer nears.  We remain committed to working alongside you to ensure a happy, healthy and transformational summer for young people from around the world. 

Michael Thompson

US Director - Camp Leaders

If you are a participant on the Camp Leaders program, please visit here for the most up to date Coronavirus information.