Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny this week revealed his concerns that the J-1 visa could be drastically affected if US authorities decide to tighten the rules surrounding the work and travel exchange program, with a potental reduction in the number of Irish students taking of up to 60% - 80%.
When questioned by TD Denis Naughten in the Dáil (Irish parliament) on Monday, Kenny declared that “issues have arisen” that could change the way in which the program currently works.
The J-1 Summer Work Travel Program has long been a rite of passage for Irish college students who travel to the US during the summer months to work, mainly, in the retail and hospitality industries.
Of the 300,000 worldwide participants on the program in 2014, 8,000 were Irish students and more than 150,000 have traveled from Ireland over the past 50 years.
Students are not currently required to have a guaranteed job before traveling to the US, but this could change in the future, drastically affecting the manner in which the program works and creating further difficulties for Irish students wishing to travel to America to work for the summer.
“Because of a series of issues that have arisen, the authorities that issue J-1 visas seem to be bent on introducing a requirement for pre-employment for young people before they go,” Kenny said, something he feels would lead to “an abrupt ending to the J-1 system as we know it.”
It is unclear what “series of issues” Kenny was referring to, but it is believed to be a reference to a number of high-profile cases in which Irish students are said to have damaged property while staying in the US.
Irish students participating in the program have been the subject of a number of negative stories in the American media in recent years. One such story was the New York Times article following the Berkeley balcony collapse tragedy that suggested Irish students had become an embarrassment to their country while in the US, for which the newspaper later apologized.
The Taoiseach believes that a move by American authorities to require students to have an offer of employment before leaving Ireland could result in a 60%-80% drop in the number of Irish students traveling on the J-1. This would serve to encourage those wishing to work in America for the summer to do so illegally on a three-month holiday visa.
Will be really sad if there are changes to the J1 visa. I wish i had gone on it when i had the chance— Kieran (@CiaranDeFaoite) October 7, 2015
Kenny reinforced his belief in the J-1 program and its benefits for young Irish people. He confirmed that he has already spoken to US Ambassador Kevin O’Malley regarding any possible changes.
“I firmly believe that the J-1 system has been important in keeping that connection alive in the modern sense with young people in university and throughout the country working in America for the summer and so on,” he said.
“It keeps the connections between our countries very much alive currently and for the future.”
As reported by IrishCentral in August, GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump also has his eye on the program, saying he would put an end to the summer program that has been the stalwart summer activity for many Irish students for over half a century.
As outlined in his policy for immigration reform, posted to his campaign website during the summer, the billionaire and former reality TV show participant has maintained his aggressive attitude towards immigration control in the US, stating that he wished to “make America great again” by ridding the US workforce of “new low-earning [guest] workers.”
According to a 2015 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement report, 200,799 participants enrolled in the J-1 program in February of this year, from countries all over the world.