Bruce Morrison says 12-month visa holders should be prepared to leave or else face disappointment.

Without a realistic plan of action that takes time and costs money, holders of the 12-month Irish J-1 graduate visa should be prepared to leave when the visa expires or else face disappointment, according to one of the leading immigration attorneys in the U.S.

Former Congressman Bruce Morrison, creator of the Morrison visa program in the 1990s that issued some 50,000 green cards to Irish citizens, is warning J-1 holders wishing to remain in the U.S. to proceed with extreme caution when it comes to converting the visa into another category – particularly the O visa for those with extraordinary ability, a standard that is likely unattainable for recent college graduates.

“If you want to use the J visa as a stepping stone you have to have a plan,” Morrison, a lobbyist and immigration attorney in the Washington, D.C. area, told the Irish Voice. “People should be aware that it is not likely they will qualify for an O visa – not impossible, but definitely not at all likely. They need to know that if they’re being told they qualify for an O visa, they’re being sold a bill of goods.”

Morrison’s warnings about the O visa, and the year-long Irish J-1 program in general, were prompted by Irish Voice freelancer Rachael Shearer’s recent columns detailing her bitter letdown at being led to believe by immigration attorneys that her prospects were good for an O visa, only to be denied twice.

Morrison wrote the language for the O-1 visa, which was passed into law as part of the Immigration Act of 1990 which also included the Morrison visa program. “The theory behind the O visa was for people with extraordinary achievements, and with a track record of achievements,” said Morrison. “For instance, someone who won an Oscar, or was nominated for an Oscar.

“Occasionally a twenty-something applicant would qualify for an O visa, but not many people coming out of school would have those credentials.”

However, given what Morrison calls a “haphazard” U.S. immigration system which relies on individual officers interpreting the law, denials of over-qualified applicants and approvals for those not meeting the O standard can happen. But J-1 holders banking on success, Morrison added, should prepare to be denied.

The Irish J-1 graduate visa program commenced in 2008 after a deal was struck between the U.S. and Irish governments for a reciprocal year-long work and exchange visa. It is available to university graduates or those engaged in post-grad study.

Morrison maintains that the Irish J-1 has been “oversold” and differs little from similar J visas the U.S. makes available to other countries. He adds that applicants need to have a clear idea of what they want to achieve with the visa due to its limitations, including the fact that it is not extendable beyond 12 months.

Traveling to the U.S. under the 90-day visa waiver program prior to taking up a J-1 visa would allow applicants to look for employment opportunities so that when they arrive here they’re already ahead of the game, Morrison advises. The J-1 does not require a pre-arranged job offer, and visa holders can spend weeks and months looking for employment with the 12-month visa validity ticking.

“If people want to have a year-long experience and that’s it then fine, but if they want more they won’t get it without knowing the options and consulting with a reputable immigration attorney well in advance,” Morrison says.

The popular H-1B visa, available for an initial three-year period for graduates with an employer willing to offer sponsorship, is for the most part not a viable option for those wishing to remain in the U.S. beyond the visa term, given the huge H-1B demand. The annual cap of 65,000 has already been reached for fiscal year 2016 starting this October, and the earliest that a current J-1 holder could expect an H-1B is October of 2016 – if they’re lucky enough to be selected in the application period next year.

Morrison points out that those working for educational institutions and their affiliates are not subject to the H-1B cap, making the chances of a successful application far greater. For any visa holder seeking an H-1B, “having legal representation sooner rather than later is extremely important. Looking for one of these visas at the end of the day won’t work,” he adds.

Another visa possibility Morrison says is underused is the E visa category for treaty traders/investors. H-3 visas are available for trainees, and F-1 visas are possible for those wishing to continue their studies at an American university.

“Of course a student visa is not for everyone, and it can be very expensive studying here. And you also can’t work for the first year,” Morrison says.

The bottom line for J-1 visa holders wanting to stay in the U.S.? “Coming here on a year visa and expecting it all to work out is very risky, so prepare to be disappointed if you don’t plan. And when that happens, people feel desperate and are willing to pay money to those who can’t keep their promises,” Morrison says.

“Come here with a job and start planning for the future the day you get here with a qualified attorney.”