The J1 visa program which annually brings up to 8,000 Irish students to America for four months work experience is under pressure in the new immigration bill.
Over the years the J1 program has brought hundreds of thousands of Irish to the U.S. but a new provision calling for potential employers to pay $750 for every employee they hire may scuttle its usefulness.
The comprehensive immigration reform bill currently being deliberated in the Senate contains that provision which, if enacted, could severely hamper the ability of students who travel to the U.S. on the summer J-1 visa program to find a job.
The bill contains a surprise provision that would compel a U.S. employer to pay a $750 fee before hiring a J-1 student. It is feared that the fee will act as a deterrent to hiring students for the summer months, and that less students will travel to the U.S. because of the added difficulty it would pose in finding employment.
The overall impact could be dramatic, including on many Irish employers with seasonal work who depend on J1 students and on Irish neighborhoods in new York and elsewhere where the students provide a major economic boost every summer.
"While there's no direct repeal of the J-1 summer work visa program, there are restrictions on who can pay, and since participants can't pay fees, it's unclear how it would be financed," former Congressman Bruce Morrison told the Irish Independent on Tuesday.
"As it's currently written, it would have a very dramatic negative effect on the ability of this program to work. At the very least it would have to be a pre-arranged employment and the employer would have to be willing to pay the amount."
In many instances J-1 students travel to the U.S. without prearranged jobs, and the proposed employer fee would make them less desirable to hire.
The Senate bill is still being deliberated and its language can change, Morrison added.
“Things could be changed. But as it is currently written, it would be a wholesale change in the way summer J-1s are done,” he said.