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J-1 Exchange Visitor Program in the Outer Banks

Posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2015 at 6:37 pm.

Autumn begins this week, and with the change in seasons we have closed out our concentrated summer monitoring and travel for 2015. Route J-1 will continue, of course, so keep checking in.

I want to close out summer 2015 with a report from the Outer Banks of North Carolina (OBX for short), a popular summer destination for Washingtonians and those from the North Carolina Research Triangle. OBX’s natural sandy beaches stretch for miles and miles, and offer a beautiful place to reconnect with family and forget about work. Part of the reason OBX is such a wonderful experience is the Summer Work Travel (SWT) participants. I visited OBX earlier this summer and was pleased with what is happening with the program there.


Outer Banks, North Carolina at sunset

As a seasonal location, OBX has a low concentration of housing units that fit the budgets of SWT participants, and many are in somewhat remote locations. Last year, the State Department consulted closely with SWT sponsors and the local community to build a support network, which is now up and running and doing great things. The International Student Outreach Program (ISOP) coordinates efforts to provide safe transportation, orientations, and cultural activities. The ISOP Chair, Jamie Bond, cares greatly about her community and the program and thus, volunteers her time to create a great experience.

Working with ISOP, host employers in the Outer Banks have paid close attention to cultural activities, housing, and transportation. I heard employers say things like:

  • “We make sure they get home if they work late.”
  • “We make a contract with them, and always give them exactly what we agreed to before they come.”
  • “It is our responsibility to make sure their program is what they signed up for.”


As an example of great things, SWT employers Harris Teeter, Food Lion and Kitty Hawk Kites each made corporate decisions to secure safe housing for their students in close proximity to work.  These employers have also made a real effort to arrange transportation. None of this is easy, but they each told me that they really love their SWT participants, and there is simply no other way to operate.


J-1 Students with Host Employer Robin Chance at Harris Teeter

Harris Teeter provides a five day comprehensive training before the students begin their jobs. Food Lion management has been active in pushing for better sidewalks and bike trails. Employer-provided bike lights and reflective vests and backpacks are commonplace in OBX now too. Kitty Hawk Kites provides free recreational rentals so the participants can enjoy the OBX outdoor culture and have fun.

Host Employer Rick Chance of Food Lion works hard to improve bike safety for the J-1 participants

Over and over during my visit, I heard participants say they appreciate how they are treated. Employers are working hard to meet their J-1 participants’ high expectations. They know that respect and caring is what keeps students engaged for a successful summer. And, also, what brings them back.

Categories: J-1 Visa, Participants, Program Spotlight

About Karen Ward

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange

Karen Ward

Karen Ward has been with the Department of State and the Exchange Visitor Program for over thirty years. Karen joined Private Sector Exchange as the Director of the Office of Private Sector Exchange Designation in December 2014. She previously had worked on all aspects of the Exchange Visitor Program, including program analyst for the secondary school student, teacher, post-secondary student, research scholar, trainee and intern categories and served as the Division Chief of the Private Sector Programs Division for three years. She spent three years as a Policy Analyst and a Senior Compliance Office within the Office of Exchange Coordination and Compliance. She has extensive knowledge on program management, the regulatory process, form development, and SEVIS administration.

Karen, a native of Maryland, is a career federal civil servant with more than 30 years of service, working mostly in the areas of international exchanges and operation management. She enjoys mentoring and volunteering in her community.