Around 1,300 international students come to Park City for the winter season, to work at the resorts or in other seasonal jobs throughout the community.
In a normal year, when the ski season lasts until early April, international student workers in Park City on a J-1 visa would typically work until March 16 or 17, says Pete Stoughton, director of programming at the Christian Center of Park City. After that, they might travel the country for a month, visiting national parks or other cultural sites, before heading back to their home countries.
Things came to a screeching halt right around March 13, just before ski resorts ended their seasons a month early. Stoughton says, at that time, students were encouraged to get home as quickly as possible. Some students flew to bigger cities, like Miami, for a better chance at catching a flight. But by the end of March, countries like Peru, Argentina and Paraguay enacted international travel restrictions, and Stoughton says around 300 J-1 students were stuck in Park City.
“Others that we spoke with, from those who were checking into the food pantry, decided with their parents that they felt safer in Park City waiting these circumstances out, versus waiting in an unknown city with no support infrastructure and no known plan for travel,” Stoughton said.
During the winter, the Christian Center headed up a housing program for J-1 students, to connect them with community members who would rent to them for the season. Now, the Christian Center is working with local employers and sponsor agencies to figure out how to support the students.
As of April 9, Deer Valley Resort Communications Manager Emily Summers says the resort is hosting 20 international employees, here on either H2B or J-1 visas. Summers says the resort is working with sponsor agencies to arrange travel home for workers, though those plans are constantly in flux, but Deer Valley is doing what it can to support them.
“Whether it’s getting them to the airport and getting them back, or just continuing to provide their housing and daily meals, and we’re doing that free of charge, especially as they can’t get home,” Summers said.
Stoughton says it’s tricky to get an accurate head count on who is still in town. The numbers are slowly declining, and he figures most J-1 students have their basic needs met, in terms of housing and food. But Stoughton says the next level of support they’ll need is emotional.
“These are our kids in Peru and Argentina,” Stoughton said. “These are college kids who came here for work and to travel and to experience the U.S., and they’re scared just like we are.”
The timeframe for the effects of the pandemic is up in the air. The urgent phase of Utah’s recovery plan is anticipated to last until May at the earliest and mid-June at the latest, though everything depends on reducing the spread of COVID-19 cases. Stoughton says the Christian Center and its partners have a good grasp on the immediate need for J-1 students but are still working through a long-term plan.
“What if this goes until June?" Stoughton said. "What if these kids can’t return until June? What is this going to look like? And what is it going to look like for our community if our community is unemployed until June or July? So, what are the long-term plans? We are still trying to wrap our heads around and communicate with the sponsor agencies what would this look like.”
Stoughton asks those who are still renting to J-1 students stuck in Park City to reach out to him directly, to get a better understanding of the situation. Additionally, he suggests checking in with students when you see them in the community and informing them about resources if they need them.