The J1 visa program is returning this year for the first time since before the pandemic.

The program, seen as a rite of passage for many, allows Irish college students to live and work in the US for the summer. 

In recent weeks, however, prospective "J1ers" have taken to social media to air their frustrations with the Irish agency USIT, which opened its visa programme two months early to accommodate for pent-up demand, for delays and lack of communication.

Vicki Cunningham, CEO of USIT, issued an apology on Twitter on May 9 as applicants continue to face delays with their applications.

A message from our CEO (1/2)

— USIT (@UsitTravel) May 9, 2022

Cunningham said: “On behalf of USIT, I’d like to apologise for the delays some of our customers have experienced on our J1 Programme and the distress and frustration this is causing.

“Like so many businesses in our travel sector right now, USIT and other stakeholders in the J1 process have faced many challenges caused by the pandemic; high demand, COVID illness, shipping delays and shortage of staff.

“We take pride in providing efficient and empathetic customer and we truly regret that in some cases this summer our best hasn’t delivered."

Cunningham said the USIT J1 team is "working around the clock" to handle J1 queries, and that additional staff have been added to assist the call centre and emails.

"We’re also running twice weekly webinars available to all customers to provide updates and information," Cunningham noted.

She went on to point out that the J1 application has "many stages" and that the process "takes time."

She requested that applicants reach out to the USIT team "on one channel only," and said that the USIT team "will be unable to assist any customers posting on our teams’ personal social channels."

She also added: "We ask that all communications with our team are courteous and respectful."

While some welcomed the apology, others felt it didn't do enough to soothe frustrations.

"Respectfully, this is not good enough," one person replied to the Twitter statement.

"Okay, this is an apology but it helps us in no way. You have to outsource the work because you can not handle it, please. Please try [to] do something to actually fix the situation," another said.

"It's not new to you students are in exams & has no dates of interviews. They can't just drop everything. You took the money, now sort out the product. STILL no reply to emails or calls," wrote another.

Some pointed out that other J1 agencies were not experiencing delays like USIT. 

The apology from USIT comes less than two weeks after the agency said on Twitter that it was “working through high volumes of queries regarding our J1 programme.”

— USIT (@UsitTravel) April 27, 2022

This tweet was also met with frustration.

“You take our money and then dont reply to our emails and dont answer the phone. Agreements were made with employers to begin on certain dates and we now risk losing employment. I uploaded documents on march 13 and in two months I havent heard a thing,” one person wrote.

“This is not true as I have sent numerous emails, waited on the phone for hours with no response not to mention the Q&A sessions only having 3 USIT workers to answer hundreds. They have falsely advertised their service and impossible to reach since paying my fee in full,” another person tweeted.

“That is completely wrong as I have sent several emails over the last 5 weeks and not one of them have been replied to. Not to mention waiting over an hour on the phone lines. Its absolutely ridiculous and so disheartening,” another said.

According to its website, USIT offers two packages for J1s: a self-placement option that costs €850, and a “guaranteed job” option that costs €1149. (As of May 11, both programs are full.) Additional costs include flights to the US, spending money and accommodation in the US, and a $60 US Embassy interview fee.

A USIT spokesperson told The Journal on May 10: “All our stakeholders are aware of the delays and US Employers are being extremely understanding about delayed start dates.

"However, if any students cannot make a later start date work for them this summer and wish to cancel from the programme, we will refund their USIT participation fees.”

“Of our total J1 cohort, 50% have now received their DS 2019 work papers, with 30% in the US waiting to be issued and the further 20% are being worked on.”