With J-1 visa season in full swing, accommodation, jobs and healthcare costs are the problems most students are reporting.  

It’s been almost three weeks since Limerick students Andrew Graham and Brian Tracey landed in New York to begin their J-1 summer experience, but despite no job or accommodation the two friends are not panicking.

When the Irish Voice got in touch with Graham on Monday, the two students were still technically homeless as they watched the Ireland soccer match.

“We were meant to go and view an apartment yesterday,” Graham, 22, explained. “But the super in the building didn’t want short term leases.

“It was a pity. The apartment was bang in the middle of McLean Avenue. A lot of landlords expect a minimum of a year lease. Realtors want a broker fee and we can’t afford that.  We are staying positive and hoping that something comes up.”

Fortunately, the two final-year students are staying with Tracey’s uncle until they find a short-term rental.

“It’s a godsend having somewhere to live,” he added.

Since arriving, the pair have spent a lot of time trawling the Internet looking for accommodation, to which Graham has come to the following conclusion -- “It’s all about who you know”.

Graham, who just completed his final year of construction management exams at Limerick Institute of Technology, says most of their money so far has been spent on transport and food.

“It’s an hour on the bus from New Jersey into Port Authority,” he explained.

Then the two college students board the subway to Yonkers to spend the day searching for a job and a place to live. One bonus of their apartment hunt has been meeting other Irish students who are here for the summer.

Siobhan Dennehy, the executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Woodlawn and Woodside, says the worst outcome for students is being forced to return home after not finding work.

“I know how daunting it can be,” admits Dennehy, who was a J-1 student herself in the past.

“Use any resource you can think of,” she says, advising students to contact friends and relatives or anyone they know when they arrive.

“Knock on every door before you make that decision to go home,” she added.

Taking this advice, Mary Frances McNamee from Crossmaglen in Co. Armagh got her brother, who lives in New York, to find an apartment for her before she arrived last week.

“My brother is out here, so he set us up,” the 20-year-old, who arrived just over one week ago, told the Irish Voice. “We’re settling in rightly.”

Along with five friends, the Queens University student decided to head to New York for a summer experience.

“There's nothing to do at home, it would have been boring sitting around,” says McNamee, who put her weekend job on hold for the summer to experience life in New York.

McNamee told the Irish Voice that five out of her six friends have found a job.

“Three of them are working in a restaurant in the city, one other girl is working as a personal assistant and another girl got work in a café.

“I haven’t got anything yet,” McNamee said “I’m still looking about.”

“I have been going in handing in CVs in person,” she said. “Sometimes in bars they take your CV and don’t even look at it.”

Working seasonal jobs in the hospitality industry may mean students are tempted to walk home late at night, but immigration experts are strongly advising against this.

Orla Kelleher, executive director of the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers, told the Irish Voice that the safety of students is the center’s biggest concern.

“Many will see young Irish students ripe for the picking and easy targets, walking home late at night,” she says.

“I would be advising students not to take any risks.”

At the Aisling Center in Yonkers, employees have assisted over 300 students with accommodation and work over the past few weeks.

“Our Internet café is full all day from 11am onwards,” Kelleher said.

“Students don’t seem to be any better prepared than they would have been in previous years, that’s the down side.”

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