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 the Irish Voice on Tuesday 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.

Siobhan Miley, press officer at the Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C., issued a statement to the Irish Voice on Tuesday which said in part, “Given the potential impact such a development would have on the numbers of Irish students participating in the J-1 program, and bearing in mind the importance of the J-1 program in strengthening Ireland-USA links over many years, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charles Flanagan, raised the matter with the State Department during his visit to the U.S. last month and our embassy in Washington has also been very actively involved in it,”

“We will remain in close contact with the U.S. State Department and with the relevant agencies and bodies as we assess the impact of these changes on the program.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny raised the J-1 visa change during remarks in the Dail last month.

“I am not keen on a situation where there could be an abrupt ending to the J-1 system as we know it, through the dramatic introduction of a requirement for pre-employment,” Kenny said.

“Independent authorities grant these visas. If that is being considered by them, and it is, then there should be a transition period during which young Irish people would be able to go to many different places in the United States and not only be congregated in one or two locations, which has its own implications.”

Michael Doorley, managing director of the Shandon Travel Group which oversees the Irish J-1 agency SAYIT, told the Irish Voice that the new changes “should make it easier” for Irish students to secure jobs in the U.S.

“The U.S. sponsors are tidying up the situation,” Doorley said. “We have been talking to some students and they feel that it will be helpful for them to have a job in the U.S. before they go. It will let them know exactly what they’ll be doing and where they will be. It will also help them get a head start on getting accommodation.

“It will be much better,” Doorley added, “for the students to have all of this work done before they depart so they won’t have to worry about what they’ll do when they get to the U.S.”

Doorley said SAYIT already has a multitude of job openings for next summer, in various parts of the U.S. SAYIT, he added, will help students in any way to comply with the new pre-departure employment regulation.

For those in the U.S. who have summer employment opportunities to share, contact Doorley at [email protected].

Do you think this change to the J-1 Summer Visa Program will be positive? Share your thoughts in the comment section, below.