Slow take-up on new J Visas
Widespread confusion about the new J visas for Irish and American students has led to a very low take-up on both sides of the Atlantic.
In September 2008, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin, announced the agreement with the U.S. government that would enable Irish citizens to work and t ravel in the U.S. for up to 12 months.
The U.S. government agreed to make available up to 20,000 visas for Irish citizens each year, which will allow them to work and travel in the U.S. for 12 months, after which time they must return home. Reciprocally, the Irish government will allow up to 5,000 U.S. citizens to work and travel in Ireland also for a year.
However, the rules governing the visas are said to be very confusing. According to USIT, a leading Irish travel agent specializing in student, youth and independent travel which is one of the main processing agencies for the new visas, over 3,000 Irish people inquired about the visa that would have allowed them to live and work in the U.S. for a year. However, very few of the applicants were eligible.
The Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C. has issued only 18 visas to American citizens but are in the process of approving another 18 more.
The State Department told IrishCentral that 2,530 J visas have been issued to Irish nationals worldwide since November. However, this figure totals all the various types of J visas issued, including summer student visas and 18-month internship visas. They do not have the exact number of new one-year J visas.
Dearbhla O'Brien, commercial director of USIT in Dublin, said that there was a “huge interest initially” in the visa because the “Irish authorities promoted the new visa as being similar to the Australian 12 month working holiday model.”
This, said O’Brien, was a mistake. “It is not at all like the Australian visa,” she said.
Australia's working holiday program allows people aged between 18 and 30 to holiday in Australia and to supplement their travel funds through short-term employment for one year. The visa allows a stay of up to 12 months in Australia, regardless of whether the holder spends the whole time in Australia. There is an optional 12-month extension available for individuals who have completed three months specified work in designated rural areas of Australia.
The difference, explains O’Brien, is that applicants for the new one year J visa must have graduated from a college program in the last 12 months and must work in their field of study when they arrive in the U.S., unlike the Australia visa which allows visa holders to work in whatever area they chose.
“This really confused people,” said O’Brien.
Irish citizens called USIT wanting to apply for the new J visas assuming the same rules applied.
O’Brien says that the new J visa was “not in fact anything new to the internship program (the 18 month J-1 visa program) already in existence.”
Although O’Brien would not disclose how many actual applications they approved for a J interview – “this is a competitive market here in Ireland and such information is considered competitively sensitive – she did say the numbers were very low.
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