The private sponsors that manage the summer J-1 visa program have decided off their own bat to demand job offers be in place before Irish students travel to the U.S. next summer, as reported in last week’s Irish Voice.
It is a dreadful decision which damages severely one of the last remaining links between Ireland and the U.S. because of immigration policies.
The sponsors -- Interexchange based in New York, and CIEE in Maine -- decided to implement the U.S. job requirement for Ireland and all the visa waiver countries for 2016, to keep the program in line with the requirements for other countries. It will certainly cost them money as far fewer than the 7,000-8,000 or so Irish students will now make the trip.
Part of the annual Irish summer adventure to America was picking a location and seeking a job, usually with a bunch of friends who had never been here before.
It was a remarkably liberating experience for those young folk who experienced America in the best way possible. The very uncertainty of where students ended up as part of the experience.
Young Irish people are not great on strict rules like seeking summer employment from 3,000 miles away. They also have many other destinations to pick from, and that’s likely what will happen from here on in.
The jobs they obtained every summer stretched from coast to coast. Part of the fun and adventure was finding that job and understanding what American employers wanted in their workers.
The Irish government is rightfully concerned that there will be a huge drop-off in students applying for 2016 J-1s. It is amazing that the visa operators never saw fit to consult with the government before taking this negative step.
Likewise, the State Department can do little if the companies they hired to run the program decide to change the rules for reasons unknown. Over the years successive U.S. ambassadors to Ireland, including the current incumbent Kevin O’Malley, have been loud in their praise of the J-1 program as a pathfinder for thousands of young Irish to first experience the United States.
Perhaps it is not too late for the Irish government to make the wishes of Ireland and Irish America known that such a radical altering of the J-1 summer program is not in the best interests of Ireland or America.
Equally, the program sponsors need to know that they will suffer financial loss because of the number of students who will opt out.