The U.S. Embassy in Dublin
By Ray O’Hanlon
Many Americans have encountered them, often during summer vacations by the shore: young Irish students serving them lunch, or a drink at sundown.
Now it looks like the sun is setting on many such encounters.
New rules for summer J-1 student visas mean that beginning in 2016 Irish students (and students from other countries in the U.S. visa waiver scheme) will have to have a job in the U.S. already lined up before they can cross the Atlantic.
It can be hard enough getting a job once in the U.S. so the new rule effectively makes for a much wider ocean to cross.
Around 7,000 Irish students were granted J-1 visas this year and Ireland heads the European table when it comes to the summer work permits.
Some now predict that the new regulation could see a reduction of as much as 80 percent of the summer Irish total.
The Union of Students in Ireland has expressed deep disappointment at the development, as has Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan.
“It’s one of those opportunities that allows people to develop, be exposed to other cultures,” USI President Kevin Donoghue told the Irish Examiner.
“It’s good for American society as well to engage with Irish people.
“The infrastructure isn’t there to ensure people who are looking for work will get it, so we would be worried there won’t be as many able to avail of the J-1 program next year as a result of the new measure,” Donoghue said.
In a statement, the U.S. embassy in Dublin said the new requirement was designed to ensure “greater safety and security of participants, greater compliance, and a more rewarding cultural experience.”
The Irish Times reported that Lauren Lovelace, the embassy’s director of public diplomacy and public affairs, said the decision was a global one and affected other visa-waiver countries such as the UK and Germany.
“This has nothing to do with any recent experiences. It’s making global a pre-placement policy which has been in effect for some time in almost every other country in the world, and which has seen success in those countries,” Lovelace said.
The embassy, according to the Times report, said the decision to change the policy was taken by independent U.S. sponsoring agencies who vet and sponsor J-1 participants, supported by the U.S. State department.
Ms. Lovelace encouraged students to be “proactive” and explore their options in accessing support and organizing a job.
She said U.S. authorities were fully committed to working with young people and their parents to ensure students continue to have full opportunity to benefit from the J-1 program.
Foreign Minister Flanagan was not reassured.
He said in a statement: “For almost fifty years, the J-1 experience has been a rite of passage for many young Irish students and has played an important and positive role in strengthening the Ireland-U.S. relationship.
“It was with some concern that I learned of the proposal to require applicants to arrange employment in advance of travel in order to obtain their J-1 visas.
“I am concerned that meeting the requirements of the new rules may prove challenging for many students and this may in turn impact on the numbers of students participating in the program.
I raised the matter with very senior members of the U.S. administration during my visit to the U.S. last month and I have in recent days also written to Secretary of State Kerry outlining my concerns.
“I have also been in contact with the U.S. Ambassador in Dublin, Kevin O’Malley, on the matter and appreciate his helpful engagement on the issue.
“My department and our embassy in Washington will closely monitor the impact of these changes and will remain in close contact with the U.S. State Department and with the relevant agencies and bodies in the coming months.”
The Irish Times reported that Taoiseach Enda Kenny had recently voiced concern that paperwork involved in the J-1 process could lead to a significant reduction in the number of visas granted.
He said that it could result in Irish students travelling on holiday visas instead and choosing to work illegally.
“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,” Mr. Kenny said, this during his last visit U.S.
According to the report, Mr. Kenny said he had sought to convince U.S. authorities to introduce a transition period for the new procedures.
It would now appear that his appeal had little effect.