Despite a new rule that requires J-1 applicants to secure jobs prior to arrival, interest in visas for 2016 working holidays in the U.S. has almost doubled since last year.

USIT, the student travel body, told the Irish Times that it is has experienced a “massive” number of queries from those seeking to travel next year.

The company played down suggestions that the new rules would damage the popular working-holiday program.

“Interest is huge and we have been blown away by the massive attendance [at preparatory events] around the country,” said Lisa Collender, Usit’s marketing manager.

USIT also said that last-minute applications are now a thing of the past as visa processing could take up to twice as long as in previous years, perhaps as long as 12 weeks, due to the new job-approval procedures.

The J-1 summer visa program that attracts thousands of Irish students each year will undergo a radical change for 2016 as applicants will, for the first time, be required to secure a U.S. job prior to arrival.

The new regulation was recently introduced by the J-1 visa’s U.S. sponsors CIEE and Interexchange. A spokeswoman for the State Department told IrishCentral's sister publication, the Irish Voice, that the Department had nothing to do with the change, but that the sponsors had discretion to implement the particulars of the J-1 program as they saw fit.

The J-1 summer work and travel visa program has been hugely popular among Irish students for decades, with up to 8,000 each year traveling to various cities across the U.S. Many of them journey to resort areas for seasonal work, and though there have been issues in the past with securing employment and accommodation, the J-1 visa remains an in-demand option for Irish students looking to spend a summer abroad.

Ireland has one of the highest J-1 visa issuance rates in the world, and the job requirement will drastically alter how the program is administered by USIT and SAYIT, the two Irish agencies contracted by CIEE and Interexchange to process the visas in Ireland.

The new change will not only affect Ireland but also J-1 visa applicants from the 37 other countries approved under the visa waiver program, which allows for visa-free travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days for eligible citizens.

The J-1 program had allowed citizens from visa waiver countries to enter the U.S. without a job offer. Going forward, citizens from any country wishing to spend a summer in the U.S. with a J-1 visa will need to have pre-arranged employment.

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