Some international college students are stuck in Vermont waiting to return to their home countries, which have instituted travel bans aimed at slowing the spread of infections from the new coronavirus.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” said Antonella Atto of Peru, who is waiting to learn when she can depart northern Vermont to return to South America. “It’s kind of hard because we’re far away from home. We don’t have, like, the support of our families.”
Many international university students come to Vermont on temporary work and travel visas for jobs at the state’s ski resorts, including Jay Peak, where Atto worked this winter.
Before her return trip, Peru shut down international commercial flights, even to its own citizens.
Jay Peak’s Melissa Sheffer told NECN & NBC10 Boston she calls the Peruvian consulate in Boston daily looking for updates on humanitarian planes to get workers home.
“It is such a moving target and things can change one minute to the next,” Sheffer explained.
In the meantime, the resort is providing housing to Atto and more than 20 other foreign workers from Peru and Argentina, even giving them weekly grocery boxes, Sheffer said.
“That makes you feel like you have a family here, too,” Atto said of both the food support and the camaraderie from other stranded students.
Sheffer said Jay has helped secure transportation for 30 other seasonal workers who had been unable to make their original flights because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
“They’re university students,” said Steve Wright, Jay Peak’s president and CEO. “And in some cases, it’s the first time they’ve really been away from home. So we’ve tried to factor that into the way we’ve approached that with them. We’re doing daily checks on most of them to make sure everybody is not just physically but mentally okay.”
According to a spokesman for the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the state does not have a tally of how many of these seasonal workers were affected.
The trade group Ski Vermont said Tuesday the issue came up at about a half dozen resorts across the state.
Vail Resorts, which owns Mount Snow, Okemo and the Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont, issued the following statement in response to an inquiry from NECN & NBC10 Boston about whether its seasonal workers were confronting travel troubles:
The majority of our international staff at our Northeast resorts have made it back to their home countries. We’re continuing to work with all of our remaining international seasonal employees, as well as with their visa sponsors and government agencies, to help determine the best path forward. This has included working to find them flights and helping them with transportation needs. Given certain border controls and travel restrictions, it has been difficult, if not temporarily impossible, for some of our employees to return home. During this challenging time, our resorts are allowing those who have not been able to return home to remain in our housing rent-free.
Atto said she‘s grateful for the support of Jay Peak to keep her housed and fed during the often-confusing coronavirus crisis.
“That makes us feel more comfortable, more safe,” Atto said.