New laws may block language counselors at Concordia

Counselors at Concordia Language Villages gather in 2016. (PHOTO: John Pasden, Flickr CC)

The director of the Concordia Language Villages program warns that new immigration and visa laws could dramatically impact its language and cultural immersion program located on a complex near Bemdiji, Minnesota.

“There has been a very significant development over the weekend regarding our J-1 Camp Counselor Exchange Visa, writes Christine Schulze in a letter posted at Concordia’s webpage. “This visa category is definitely in peril of being completely eliminated through executive action. If this occurs, then we would be unable to invite international staff to join our Village programs in the future.”

The camp draws many of its counselors from native countries where the languages they teach originate.

Writes Schulze:

Concordia Language Villages of Concordia College has been a sponsor of the J-1 Camp Counselor Exchange Visa since 1975. Each year we invite close to 200 individuals from around the world to serve on staff at one of our 15 Language Villages on the J-1 Camp Counselor exchange program. These staff offer language and cultural skills that ensure top quality instruction in our iso-immersion setting. The international staff are vital members of the Concordia Language Villages community and help us provide an incomparable educational opportunity for thousands of young people in the state of Minnesota and across the country on an annual basis. Moreover, we have recently been designated a Language Training Center for the Department of Defense and J-1 exchange visitors are some of our language instructors.

Schulze cites a letter she received from Ilir Zherka of the Alliance for International Exchange.

Writes Zherka:

According to multiple sources, including the Wall Street Journal, an administration working group led by White House staff is developing plans to eliminate a majority of privately-funded J1 Visitor Exchange Programs. They have their sights specifically on Summer Work Travel, Camp Counselor, Intern/Trainee, and Au Pair. This policy could be adopted by the Trump administration very soon.

We believe this is a grave mistake—elimination of these programs would have a negative impact on local communities, employers, and families nationwide, while dramatically weakening our public diplomacy efforts.

Blanket anti-immigration policies invariably create unintended consequences. This development that affects a school in Northern Minnesota is one, but it won’t be the last. Rural Minnesota already faces difficulty in attracting skilled doctors and professionals in highly complex fields (*and* getting their families here too). The shrinking, aging workforce of rural areas like ours need an infusion of new blood.

One-hundred years ago that came from immigrants. It’s not like there isn’t already a thorough system for legal immigration. We’re not talking about people streaming over the border. We’re talking about the exchange of knowledge and understanding with the world.

Last spring, my Great Northern Radio Show broadcast from Bemidji. I interviewed Jennifer Speir-Hearn of the Concordia Language Villages. We also satirized the camp in a sketch and heard from some of the campers in musical form. Perhaps listening would give you a sense of what language and cultural training provides young people.

It’s a big world. And it won’t get smaller, even if our vision does.


  1. The Northern Lights Music Festival, based in Aurora and Chisholm has already had to eliminate recruitment for students in certain countries because graduate students are considered now to be professional, requiring work visas (which cost upwards of $2000 each.) This has gone on for a number of years, and it has had a negative impact on our student body. The same is true of professional singers and faculty members, who used to be able to come to teach and sing in the opera with B-1 visas. No more. Again, the very expensive O or H visas, complete with the gigantic required paperwork and justification, verification and authorization from the Musicians Unions (for an additional $400 fee) and a long timeline. Yes, it is difficult.

  2. By the way, do you know that on your map, Aurora isn’t even represented? Skibo, Clappers (where is Clappers) are there; Biwabik, Hoyt Lakes. No Aurora. Get a new map?


    • Tucker Nelson says

      It’s there; you just have to zoom in! I’d also never heard of clappers, though.

    • Tucker is right. You just need to zoom in more. The map is based off of the Google Maps database. I’m not sure why it grabs small (long forgotten) location names before those of larger towns, but it does happen sometimes. It might have to do with Aurora’s proximity to other towns. Too close for the text to appear unless you zoom in.

  3. Karen Karges says

    We are supposed to be hosting a Young intern from Pau, France. She is going to be working at Anthony Middle School in Minneapolis. It has been 8 weeks since she applied for a visa (at the American Embassy in Paris) and she hasn’t been able to get an answer. She was due to arrive on August 19th. School started yesterday. It’s really a sad situation, as it is a negative impact for language programs in Middlr Schools and High Schools. Can anyone tell me if this situation is similar to the one at Concordia? This young woman’s friend went to the Embassy just one day prior and easily obtained a visa and is already interning in Kansas City. This is so frustrating on many levels. Can someone help me figure this out?

  4. I get a kick out of the left tainting the discussion from the get go – “anti-immigration” policies. You, I and all our friends know of no one who’s against immigration, illegal immigration, yes (if you’re a Trump supporter). But no ones against immigration…well maybe ANTIFA.

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