Irish immigration centers expecting a decrease in the number of students who will travel to the US this summer.Photocall

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) today launched their J-1 Visa Guide in a push to show Irish students they can still find jobs on a J-1, despite the new rules.

With support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and American Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, USI is urging Irish students planning on traveling with the visa this year to apply quickly and start on the job hunt as soon as possible.

With the implementation of new rules by the J-1 visa’s U.S. sponsors CIEE and Interexchange, 2016 is the first year that J-1 students must have employment in place before they can enter the US, causing further difficulties for those planning their American summer adventure.

The J-1 Summer Work Travel (SWT) Program has long been a rite of passage for Irish third-level students who travel to the US during the summer months to work, mainly in the retail and hospitality industries.

Of the 300,000 worldwide participants on the program in 2014, 8,000 were Irish students and more than 150,000 have traveled from Ireland since the program was launched in 1966.

Read more: An Irish J-1 student's "Parent's Guide" to New York (PHOTOS).

The introduction of new rules requiring pre-employment in order to travel to the US led to fears there would be a massive decline in Irish students undertaking the visa this year and in the future, resulting in thousands more students staying in Ireland during the summer months and looking for employment.

As a result, USI has urged potential participants to sign up early to the program to ensure they have time to organize a job.

Speaking in advance of the guide's launch on Tuesday, Jan 26 USI President Kevin Donoghue said, “USI and the Department of Foreign Affairs have produced this guide to working and living in America under the J-1 visa.”

“It includes tips on staying safe and planning the J-1 trip of a lifetime, while being a good ambassador for Ireland and showing the best example to American citizens of how Ireland is today.”

The guide also includes information on the main J-1 agents working with Irish students, USIT and SAYIT, who are currently running placement programs to help students secure a summer job in the US.

“We’re urging students to get involved now with the job placement process so they can take up the roles that are on offer”, Donoghue said. “Once students have a job secured, they’ll have all the hard work done and be able to look forward to a great summer in the US.”

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny previously announced his concern about the rule changes, stating that it would lead to “an abrupt ending to the J-1 system as we know it” and predicted a drop in Irish participants by 60-80%.

To counteract a possible drop in participants in 2016, USI has worked in close collaboration with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and American Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, to create this new 2016 guide offering advice to students on how to find a job, secure accommodation and make the most of their opportunity to experience the American way of life.

“The Government’s focus is on maximizing student participation in the J-1 program in 2016 and beyond. I am pleased that the Department is in a position to support USI in the production of this excellent and informative guide,” said Irish Minister for Diaspora Affairs Jimmy Deenihan.

“I strongly encourage students wishing to apply for this year’s summer J-1 to engage with the process now so that they can meet the requirements of the program and go on to have a great experience in the US.”

Another concern for USI in the creation of this guide was the issue of accommodation. There has been growing concern as to the future of the program in general following a number of high-profile cases in which Irish students are said to have damaged property while staying in the US.

The guide advises students to also secure accommodation before traveling but to make sure they are dealing with a legitimate rental agency or landlord.

They further advise students not to sign a lease unless it is completely understood, to never pay in cash and to always get a receipt if possible.

“With the recent changes, the U.S. government is working with applicants, Irish government representatives, and independent U.S. and Irish implementing institutions to ensure that Irish students continue to benefit from the J-1 program just as they have in the past,” said U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley.

“The key to success with this latest change is for students to be proactive. We encourage all J-1 participants to plan ahead and register early for the job fairs.

“Even as some aspects of the J-1 program evolve and change, the cultural exchange and entrepreneurial spirit at the heart of the program remain exactly the same. The J-1 experience will continue to be a life-changing one that connects the next generation of Irish and Americans and strengthens the bonds of friendship between our two countries.”

Read more: Why Donald Trump is wrong to get rid of J-1 visas in his immigration policy.

Others have agreed that the new rules will help to clean up the J-1 SWT Program. Speaking to IrishCentral’s sister publication the Irish Voice in November 2015, Michael Doorley, managing director of the Shandon Travel Group which oversees the Irish J-1 agency SAYIT, said that it would now be easier for students to find US jobs.

“The U.S. sponsors are tidying up the situation,” Doorley said. “We have been talking to some students and they feel that it will be helpful for them to have a job in the U.S. before they go. It will let them know exactly what they’ll be doing and where they will be. It will also help them get a head start on getting accommodation.

“It will be much better for the students to have all of this work done before they depart so they won’t have to worry about what they’ll do when they get to the U.S,” he added.

J1 visa website.

J1 visa website.

The USI J-1 Visa Guide can be viewed online here.

You can find further advice and personal stories on the J-1 year-long graduate visa in IrishCentral’s J-1 visa series here.