President-elect Donald J. Trump made reform of US immigration law the cornerstone of his campaign and his promises could mean thousands of Irish college student lose the right to spend a summer working in the USA.
For decades, thousands of college students from Ireland - and the rest of the world - have traveled to the US each summer to work and experience American culture before returning in September for the new academic year.
The J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa program was created by the Johnson Administration in 1966 to fill labor shortages, whilst strengthening cultural ties between the US and other countries.
Students can spend up to four months working and traveling in the US and famous past participants include former President of Ireland Mary McAleese and Ireland’s first gay Cabinet Minister Leo Varadkar.
But last August, the Trump campaign pledged to abolish the popular 50-year-old program, demanding it be, “terminated and replaced with a resume bank for inner city youth provided to all corporate subscribers”.
So apparently Donald Trump wants to get rid of au pairs since we are all here with a J-1 Visa ?✌?️ pic.twitter.com/OLaJP8Nokx— CinderAnnie. (@CallMeAnnie) May 7, 2016
The program has already seen a number of restrictions added to it in recent years: for the first time ever this year, J-1 visa holders were obliged to secure employment before arriving, something US Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, said would eliminate much of the “stress, uncertainty, and cost” associated with the visa.
Whilst Ambassador O’Malley hailed the program as a “great tradition”, the J-1 also has its critics, many of whom think the visa is a way to import cheap foreign labor into the American market.
On a Reddit’s AskTrumpSupporters forum, one contributor described the J1 as, “one of the most abused visas for visa overstays” whilst an Irish student acknowledged that “The opinion of a lot of Americans is that those on a J1 visa are trouble and shouldn't be allowed in any way.”
Last year after five Irish J-1 visa holders died when a balcony collapsed in Berkley, CA, the New York Times attracted strong criticism in the Irish media for describing the program as, “a source of embarrassment for Ireland, marked by a series of high-profile episodes involving drunken partying and the wrecking of apartments in places like San Francisco and Santa Barbara.”
There is some debate, however, about whether the Trump Administration will follow through with its campaign plan.
Boston lawyer and NUI Galway lecturer Larry Donnelly told Irish radio earlier in the year that, “I wouldn’t put a lot of credence in what Trump says. The J-1 is a fantastic vehicle for promoting international relations.”
Others are not so optimistic. Immigration attorney Caro Kinsella told the Irish Independent yesterday that, “I do believe he will abolish the J-1 Visa because, in 2015, he unequivocally stated that he was going to revoke it and effectively now he wants to give those jobs to inner city youths.”
But Ronnie Millar of the Irish International Immigration Center is urging caution. “We have to wait and see what happens when he gets into office. We need to be patient and calm about this interim period and I think that it is important that we don't speculate too much because that can cause uncertainty to young people,” he said.
But even if the J-1 were to continue, many young Irishmen and women are suggesting that President Trump might stop them coming anyway.
Oisín Vince Coulter who worked in Philadelphia as a camp counselor this summer told IrishCentral he wouldn’t have gone had Trump already been in office, as “his opinions on race, sexuality, and immigration have made the country a more dangerous and scary place.”
He added, “Not to mention that my friend, who I went over with, is gay - and probably wouldn't go over now - and I wouldn't have gone without him.”
His concerns were echoed by Alexa Donnelly who worked as a hostess in New Orleans last summer.
“I wouldn’t go,” she said.
“I would be concerned for my bodily autonomy, my rights as a woman both physically and professionally, and most of all my legal status in the country.
“Greater American Presidents than Trump have interned swathes of legal immigrants without due cause - see the Japanese in World War II.”
Conn McCarrick, a student at Trinity College, Dublin, said the election had definitely made him question if he wanted to go on a J-1.
“As an LGBT person and an immigrant of sorts it's hard to know if Trump's new America would be a very welcoming place,” he commented.
“I'll be looking closely to see what he says over the next few weeks but yes, it has made me hold off on booking my flights, to be honest.”
Others were less worried. Law student Shannon Buckley Barnes said she might think differently if she was a woman of color but overall the new President would “probably not” stop her doing a J-1.
All of which should mean President Trump and Taoiseach Enda Kenny should have plenty to talk about when the two meet at the White House for St. Patrick’s Day. Not least because Kenny’s own family have used the program, his daughter Aoibhinn spending the summer this year working stateside on the visa.
How would you feel about the end of the J-1 summer visa? Let us know in the comments section below.