After COVID-19 Forced Unexpected Stay in Vt., International Students Gradually Going Home

Jay Peak will say goodbye later this week to several of its seasonal workers who were supposed to leave back in March before the coronavirus pandemic changed plans around the world

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Several foreign college students will soon return to their home countries months after restrictions on international travel left them stuck in Vermont.

"I'm looking forward to seeing my family, my friends," said Maria Davila of Peru, who is about to go home for the first time in seven months. "But also to enjoy the food — that's what I miss the most. Peruvian food is amazing!"

Davila was supposed to return to Peru in March, after working the winter at Vermont's Jay Peak Resort. So was her friend, Antonella Atto.

However, when their home country mostly shut its borders to slow the spread of COVID-19, the university students had no choice but to stay in Vermont and focus on their coursework.

"It was stressful, but being around good people doesn't make it feel like that any more," Atto said Monday.

NECN and NBC10 Boston first told you about the students' situation back in April, when a few dozen foreign workers were stuck at Jay.

Many resorts rely on seasonal employees who come on designated student visas for jobs in food service, housekeeping, ticket taking and other duties.

"It's been quite a ride," Jay's Melissa Sheffer said, referring to how the resort worked hard to make sure the workers were provided with groceries and free places to stay during the pandemic.

Sheffer said she has been on the phone regularly with the Peruvian consulate in Boston to secure spots on humanitarian flights, which is how Davila will be getting home later this week.

"We're really grateful because they treated us like we were a family here," Davila said of the foreign students who have been staying at Jay Peak.

"It's been a long journey, but it's been a beautiful one in some ways," Sheffer said, pointing to friendships that have been strengthened during the students' bonus time in Vermont.

Sheffer added that she has assured the foreign workers that they shouldn't face any penalties for staying in the U.S. longer than expected, since the COVID-19 crisis was not their fault.

You can expect more discussion this coming fall and winter about this category of worker, because new guidelines from the White House mean they won't be able to start jobs here until January.

That will leave ski resorts like Jay Peak balancing their early season needs against realities from the pandemic and availability of staff.

Antonella Atto said she would like to get a visa renewal to return to the place that's become a home away from home during the COVID-19 crisis.

"That would be a great opportunity to work here one more time," Atto said of Jay.

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