A leading Irish immigration attorney in New York has warned J-1 visa holders to exercise caution in the wake of last week’s controversy over an Irish immigrant center in Boston reporting on an Irish graduate from Donegal who they alleged was in violation of her visa terms.

Limerick native James O’Malley, who has practiced law in New York for more than 25 years, took on the case of the Donegal woman after she received a letter on May 22 from the Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC) in Boston telling her that her year-long Irish J-1 work and travel visa was being canceled because she wrote a piece for our sister website, Irish Central, about her extra bar work.

The woman – who wishes to remain nameless -- had been hired by Irish Central as an intern in compliance with the terms of the J-1 visa, which is available to Irish third-level students or recent graduates. 

The letter she received from the IIIC, an approved J-1 processing group, warned her that the State Department would no longer recognize her visa as valid, and that she would have to leave the U.S. by June 19.  She was also told that she would have to immediately provide evidence of her departing flight details to the IIIC.

The subsequent Irish Central coverage of an Irish immigrant assistance group reporting on a young Irish woman attracted a huge amount of media interest in Ireland, and also generated intense comment on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The IIIC originally issued a statement standing by its decision to cancel the woman’s visa, but on Friday night reversed course and posted a Facebook notice apologizing for its handling of the situation.

“The IIIC is deeply sorry for the hurt and upset that this incident caused the young woman. We recognize that it would have been more sensitive to first communicate with her host organization prior to our taking action, and to provide her with a warning that her unauthorized employment was inconsistent with the program regulations,” the statement said.

The IIIC also vowed to undertake a full review of how it administers the J-1 visa program “to ensure that our mission of providing support to Irish students and graduates is properly carried out.”

O’Malley is attempting to rectify the Donegal woman’s visa situation; as of Tuesday afternoon he was still awaiting contact from the IIIC.

The year-long Irish Work and Travel visa program was created in 2008 by the State Department. Separate from the summer J-1 visa program, the year-long J-1 allows college students and recent graduates to live and work in the U.S. for up to 12 months, but O’Malley says the visa doesn’t come without problems.

“I think the visa has its merits for sure, but the holder has to find work within 90 days of arrival here and that’s often a problem,” O’Malley told the Irish Voice. 

“The visa applicants would definitely be well advised to start the legwork before they arrive in the U.S. to save time and hassle.  The J-1 job has to be professional in nature, and it’s very rare that a visa holder will walk into an American office on Friday and be told to start a job on Monday. There’s lots of planning that goes into ensuring the J-1 visa holder has a successful stay here.”

Immigration attorney James O'Malley