TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY has said he hopes the J-1 visa doesn’t get scrapped following the election of Donald Trump.
During his election campaign, Trump said he wanted to end the visa scheme, which has seen thousands of young Irish people travel and work in America.
As part of a range of immigration policies he wants to introduce, Trump said:
“The J-1 visa jobs program for foreign youth will be terminated and replaced with a resume bank for inner city youth provided to all corporate subscribers to the J-1 visa program.”
The J-1 visa allows full-time third level students to enter the US on a J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa. Students are allowed to travel to the USA and work there legally for up to four months.
When asked by TheJournal.ie today if Kenny had raised the matter during his telephone conversations with President-elect Trump and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, the Taoiseach said that he did not have time to raise the J-1 issue.
“I hope the J-1 doesn’t end. It has been a very valuable scheme and given young people an opportunity to travel, an opportunity to see different places, to meet new people to get a sense of what America is and in a different way follow on the footsteps of so many other forefathers,” said Kenny.
He said the theory behind the J-1 was that young people would have an opportunity to get a flavour of the personality in America in different states.
One of the Dáil’s youngest ministers, Health Minister Simon Harris, previously spoke about Trump’s threats to scrap the scheme stating:
“Mr Trump clearly doesn’t understand the programme or it’s purpose.”
A Trump visit
With Trump taking a tough line on Ireland’s much loved visa programme, will he making a trip to these shores soon?
“He said himself he would like to visit Ireland sometime so let us see when the administration takes up office what his schedule might be,” Kenny said.
“I don’t have any indication of his coming at an early date.”
Today, the Taoiseach was also asked by TheJournal.ie about his recent tweet about his conversation with Pence.
Kenny came in for some harsh criticism online from people who criticised his wording and for stating that Pence “knows Ireland and the issues that matter to our people”.
Pence has been a consistent opponent of LGBT rights and has previously advocated so-called “conversion therapy” for gay people.
When asked did he regret the wording of that tweet and if he could, would he go back rephrase the tweet, he said:
What I said in the message about my conversation with Vice President-elect Pence is true. I had a very good conversation with him. He does understand Ireland very well. He has parents on both sides, people on both sides from Sligo and from Clare, he’s been here in 2013 with his wife Karen and the children.
He is very much acquainted with the issues about the country here. He is also clear about the turnabout in our economic situation after coming through a very difficult period.
The Taoiseach clarified that “brief conversations” like the one held with Pence don’t go into “all the details”.
You speak as politician to politician – it’s about the policies of Ireland, the policies of America, obviously we were the first country in the world to have a Citizen’s Assembly of which came a recommendation to have a referendum to change a fundamental law in respect of introducing marriage equality and I was very happy to be part of that campaign.
Kenny reiterated the points he made in the Dáil this week that the world has to deal with the decision the American people have made.
The new reality
“It’s not a case of wringing hands here. This is a case of dealing with the reality of a new regime and a new administration taking up office in the United States. And my conversation, both with the President Elect and the Vice-President Elect, was on the basis of the relationship of this country with the United States.
“And as part of that, I mentioned the traditional economic, social, historic and political links that we have; the way things have changed, from an Ireland where we relied very heavily on remittances from the United States to keep families alive here, to where Irish-owned firms now employ over 100,000 people across 50 states,” he said.
The question of the 50,000 undocumented Irish was raised with Trump, said Kenny, who said he mentioned to the president-elect that a number of years ago, John McCain (a Republican) and the late senator Ted Kennedy (a Democrat) had a very comprehensive piece of immigrant legislation, which was turned down by the Republicans.
These are matters that take up our time and take up our interest.
Vice-President Pence did say to me that the President Elect had spelled out, down in Phoenix, Arizona, his priorities in respect of securing borders and dealing with undocumented immigrants who had criminal record against them. He set out a priority there.
He said he hoped the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Paul Ryan – whose ancestors hail from Graiguenamanagh in Kilkenny – and others in the Senate and Congress will make a very strong pitch for the Irish in America.
The Taoiseach said the undocumented “have had to live in the shadows for too long”.