Though one Ireland-based travel company says that the J-1 summer visa program has been busier than ever for his business, Irish immigration centers operating in the U.S. are expecting a decrease in the number of students who will travel to the U.S. for the summer season because of the new rule that requires each student to have secured a job offer in America before a visa can be issued.
“It is expected that the numbers of J-1 students on the ground in the U.S. this summer will decrease as compared to previous years given the new job pre-placement requirement. That being said, all centers still expect a very active summer,” Aileen Leonard Dibra, national coordinator for the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers in the U.S., told our sister publication, the Irish Voice.
A spokesperson for the American Embassy in Dublin said J-1 visa interviews are currently being conducted, and final numbers wouldn’t be available for several months.
The concern over this year’s J-1 summer work travel program, a rite of passage for thousands of Irish students for decades, was sparked last fall when the program’s main sponsors, CIEE and InterExchange in the U.S., changed the eligibility requirements to include a verified job offer in the U.S. prior to visa issuance. The vast majority of J-1 students in prior years didn’t secure employment until after arrival in the U.S.
Michael Doorley, managing director of Shannon Travel in Co. Cork which includes SAYIT Travel, an authorized issuer of J-1 visas to Irish students, told the Irish Voice that the number of J-1s processed by SAYIT this year “increased slightly,” and that his agency was well prepared to help students navigate the new job requirement.
“We worked very hard for months on educating them,” Doorley said. “I can only speak about our program obviously, but the job placement hasn’t been an impediment. We’ve told the visa applicants what is now involved and worked with them and our U.S. agency InterExchange on making things as smooth as possible.”
The two main Irish immigration agencies in New York – the Emerald Isle in the Bronx/Queens and Aisling Center in Yonkers – have had increased outreach from Irish students this year because of the new employment rule.
“We had a higher number of earlier inquiries due to the job requirements and passed along as many job leads as we could to help with the added step of having a job offer to submit to the sponsoring agencies. We also saw a rise in activity in social media,” Siobhan Dennehy, executive director of the Emerald Isle, said.
Orla Kelleher, executive director of the Aisling Irish Center in Yonkers, said J-1s have started to arrive in New York for the summer, but the numbers likely won’t reach those in previous years.
“Going by the information we have received thus far, there will be a dramatic decrease in the number of students coming to the U.S. on a J-1 visa this year. College students have been reaching out to us via email and Facebook for help with work and accommodation in New York since last December,” Kelleher told the Irish Voice.
The Irish centers throughout the U.S. have been “working diligently” to help students cope with the new employment regulations, Leonard Dibra says.
“Though students will be arriving to the U.S. with employment in place, the Irish centers throughout the U.S. still remain the initial point of contact for most students seeking assistance in a variety of areas including, accommodation, job related issues, administrative assistance and culturally competent support,” she added.
In addition to the job requirement, securing short-term accommodation remains a yearly troublesome issue for the J-1 students.
“The scarcity of short term accommodation seems to be the biggest issue yet again,” says Kelleher.
Last year, after the job requirement change became known, Taoiseach Enda Kenny expressed his concern that the number of Irish traveling to various parts of the U.S. for the summer on a J-1 would dramatically decrease.
“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,” he said.
Ireland is one of the countries that makes greatest use of the J-1 program, with an average yearly issuance of 7,500 visas.