Letter: Save the J-1 Visa

Letter: Save the J-1 Visa

A writer claims that international staff are essential to providing cultural experience at Jewish summer camps.

The following is from a letter sent to President Donald Trump on Sept. 6.

We are writing on behalf of more than 300 Jewish summer camps serving more than 200,000 children, teens and young adults to urge you to preserve the U.S. State Department’s J-1 Camp Counselor program and the use of the Summer Work Travel (SWT) program by America’s summer camps.

We understand that as your administration defines the scope of the “Buy American Hire American” executive order, you may be considering recommendations which would radically reduce or eliminate the Camp Counselor and SWT camp cultural exchange programs. This would have a drastic impact — both educationally and operationally — on the many programs we support.

Participation of Jewish counselors and staff from Israel and other countries through the J-1 Camp Counselor and SWT programs is critical to the mission of the Jewish camp field — and the American camp experience as a whole. Our camps utilize these programs to bring cultural exchange staff from Israel to summer programs, where they participate in daily camp life, sharing Jewish traditions, teaching about Jewish and Israeli culture, and serving as role models for Jewish campers.

American staffers — who make up more than 90 percent of camp teams — work hand in hand with international staff, providing a fully integrated cultural experience. If these summer staffers are no longer able to participate in this cultural exchange, the very nature and existence of these essential programs will be under grave threat.

Our research has proved that Jewish summer camp experiences are a significant predictor of Jewish identity formation and whether children will continue to be part of their faith communities as they grow. In addition, summer camps provide critical experiential and developmental opportunities for America’s youth.

Any threat to these programs and their educational impact could cause ripples across our entire faith community and deeply impact the development of future Jewish faith leaders and their connections to Israel.

As well, please consider the following operational issues that would affect camps:

  • Reduction in these programs will result in the loss of thousands of American jobs as camps might be forced to downsize or even close.
  • Reduction in camp operations and services, an $18 billion industry nationwide, would have tremendously negative impacts on many local economies, particularly in rural areas.
  • There are not enough American students and workers to fill jobs in American summer camps, especially those in rural areas
  • J-1 camp counselors and SWT camp participants are keys to our cultural exchange efforts and to America’s diplomatic outreach with the rest of the world.

We cannot overstate the significance of the J-1 Camp Counselor and SWT programs to all our nation’s summer camps, in particular to our many Jewish camps. We urge you to preserve these vital programs.

— Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO, and Peter J. Weidhorn, board chair, Foundation for Jewish Camp, along with 12 religious and camp leaders as co-signatories

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