In this case study on crisis management, Rafael Espinoza, Founder of Universal Student Exchange (USE), explains how USE reacted proactively to the pandemic, working together with sponsors and partners to advocate the reopening of visa appointments to allow participants to take part in the 2021 Work and Travel Program.
The pandemic has created new challenges for the entire Cultural Exchange community, both due to reduced demand as a result of health and economic concerns and US Consulates only granting emergency visa appointments in most countries. From the start of the health crisis, Universal Student Exchange (USE) decided to approach the situation proactively. On15 March 2020, several South American countries announced their airspace closure. On 16 March, we started negotiations to charter our first plane to transport our participants, totalling 3 plane loads, in order to bring back hundreds of USE participants (mainly on Work and Travel programs in the US). This provided an important opportunity to connect with key people within the Peruvian Government and the Peruvian Embassy in Washington DC. In 2021, when we faced the uncertainty of the opening of Consulates in the region, we established a two-pronged strategy:
1. Local Efforts in Argentina and Peru.
2. International Efforts
We focused our efforts on Argentina and Peru because they represent about 70% of the total Winter Work & Travel program, and we knew that Chile and Paraguay would process visas as they did last year. Those four countries represent about 90% of the total number of applicants. The local efforts meant working with most Work and Travel organisations in Argentina and Peru to create awareness of the size of the program in 2021 within the US Consulate. We sent a letter signed by all organisations of both countries with the approximate number of applicants in each country.
Additionally, we were able to:
a) Establish contact with the Director of the Office of Relations of Peru with North America, who was able to speak with the US Consul.
b) Make the new US Ambassador in Peru aware of the size of the program and the need for all organisations to receive some guidelines from the US Consulate for this year’s program.
c) Speak with two former Foreign Affairs Ministers in Peru.
d) Explain the concerns about the program and actions that could be taken to the Argentinean Ambassador in Washington DC.
In June, we started preparing a proactive approach to gain international support, working with sponsors and mployers, and evaluated a Plan B, in case consulates did not open in Argentina and Peru.
US: Working together with our partner sponsors, we asked US based employers to send a letter to their US representatives in Congress and Senate asking for support.
Colombia: We travelled to Colombia to connect with a partner that could help process visas in the country. We started by successfully sending several interns / trainees from Peru to get their visa.
Mexico: We were invited by our main sponsors to travel to Mexico to meet with the person in charge of the ten US Consulates in Mexico, to determine if it was possible to process Winter visas in the country. We also hired someone to manage the logistics required to successfully operate locally (if needed). Upon arrival in Mexico, we received news from the US Consulate in Peru that several thousands of J-1 Visa appointments would open.
On my way back to Peru, the US Embassy in Buenos Aires also confirmed via video conference with local agencies that it would also open thousands of visa appointments.
About Universal Student Exchange
Universal Student Exchange (USE) was founded by Rafael Espinoza in 1999 in Lima, Peru. The company sends over 3,000 students each year to the United States to work in entry-level positions in the areas of customer service, hospitality, and tourism. The offices have now expanded to Chile and Argentina, with four offices across the continent
USE Programs began with the Winter Work and Travel Program in the United States, recruiting students from South America. Today, USE recruits for the Summer Work and Travel, Internship and Trainee programs in the US and Canada as well as outbound language programs and inbound Internship and volunteer programs.