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Where Are Wisconsin's J1 Visa Workers This Summer?

By the middle of July, summer in the Northwoods is in full swing.

Lakeside resorts are full. Restaurants are crowded. Summer camps are off to a running start.

But at least one thing is still different this year than in years before COVID.

“We typically have 1,000 J1 visa workers that come to Minocqua, and we just didn’t get them this year,” says Krystal Westfahl, executive director of the Minocqua Chamber of Commerce.

J1 visas are given to people who come to the U.S. for a short period of time to work.

Every summer, thousands of those workers come from Europe, Australia and Africa to help Northwoods businesses during busy season.

But this year, as tourists return to the Northwoods in droves, overseas workers are nonexistent.

David Wood – known as Woody at Camp Menominee – has used a J1 visa to help out at the summer camp for almost 30 years.

This year, he’s stuck in the U.K.

“I never thought for one moment this year would be the same as last year,” he says.

Wood says he can’t apply for a visa because the U.S. embassy isn’t open yet to non-essential workers.

And, even if it were to open, the state department faces a huge backlog of visa applications due to staffing shortages.

That’s on top of COVID travel restrictions still in place that prevent people from countries like the U.K., South Africa and China from coming to the U.S.

The result of this –

“All camps are suffering, everywhere, with lack of staff,” Wood says.

And it’s not just summer camps. Local businesses, resorts and restaurants are in the same boat.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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