Dear Spirit Partners,
Happy holidays to our U.S. based Host Employers, schools, and local community partners. COVID-19 has tested us this year, and I am sure we all look forward to enjoying the year-end holidays and starting 2021 with a more positive outlook. As we look back on 2020, it is with both a sense of pain and pride. The evolving pandemic caused turmoil and pain for all of us, but we can be proud of how we handled the pandemic impact. As the pandemic emerged earlier this year, Spirit worked with you to arrange and rearrange the visit to the USA for thousands of participants, and we were all disappointed when only a fraction of those young people were eventually able to arrive. Spirit worked hard to minimize the pain and stress to our partners by making timely refunds to those who couldn’t come and by closely supporting those participants who arrived but faced travel bans, COVID outbreaks, and unique living conditions in the USA. Fortunately, our participants returned home safely, and we can now look back at 2020 with relief that it is behind us.
As we look forward to 2021, we begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Following are some bright spots:
- Several new COVID-19 vaccines with 90%+ effectiveness are nearing approval, and distribution is expected to start this month. We are hopeful that immunization and new therapeutics that are reducing the harmful effects of COVID-19 will allow the U.S. (and the world) to return to a more normal life.
- As you may know, U.S. Presidential Proclamation 10052 of June 22 put most J-1 visa issuance on hold, but recent events have diminished its impact. Recent court rulings have temporarily allowed J-1 visas to be issued to Spirit participants, and the proclamation is set to expire at the end of this month. We are hopeful that overseas U.S. visa offices can start to return to normal operations in early 2021.
- The U.S. Department of State continues to demonstrate enthusiasm for the J-1 programs and recently launched BridgeUSA as the new brand identity for the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program. We are also enthusiastic about President-elect Biden, who we believe has a strong appreciation for international relations and the positive impact of international cultural exchange.
- Spirit staff is now operating at full strength, and your Spirit representative will start discussions with you soon in preparation for 2021. We are thankful that our experienced staff has survived this storm together, and we look forward to calmer seas in 2021.
- Spirit continues to leverage the long term relationships it has with its international agents and Host Employers. Strong relationships and trust have allowed us to manage the recent difficulties, and they will serve us well as we rebuild the program in 2021.
- There continues to be tremendous participant interest in the cultural exchange programs that we operate. Together we provide life changing experiences to individuals and build lifelong international relationships. Our programs and reputation are highly regarded. However, some participants will be cautious as we emerge from this pandemic, and 2021 will probably be a first step towards a full recovery.
Spirit is preparing for a strong Summer Work Travel program this summer in the USA. We are also working on a return to normal operations in our Intern, Trainee, and Teacher programs.
Thank you again for your help and support in 2020. We look forward to a prosperous year together in 2021.
Rich Baader, CEO & Co-Founder