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Emigrant centre warned: Prioritise Irish interests or lose your state funding

Eamon Gilmore says the Irish International Immigration Center, which had an Irish J-1 student deported, has apologised.

Image: Matt Dunham/AP

THE BOSTON-BASED immigration centre which reported an Irish student to the immigration authorities and had her visa withdrawn, after she admitted to taking a second job, has been warned it must prioritise the needs of Irish citizens.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore says the Irish International Immigration Center (IIIC), which  withdrew its sponsorship of a Donegal woman’s J-1 visa after she took the second job in contravention of the terms and conditions, may lose its funding if similar incidents happen in future.

The Donegal student was working in the United States on a 12-month visa, officially employed as an intern at the expatriate news website IrishCentral, where she wrote a column detailing how she had taken a second job working behind a bar to pay her way.

The IIIC later disclosed to the website that a member of its staff had been watching media coverage to keep an eye on any infractions of a worker’s visa conditions, and that it had withdrawn its sponsorship of the visa as a result of the woman’s disclosure – leaving her with no option but to return to Ireland.

Website editor Niall O’Dowd had said it was impossible for any student to afford life in the United States on an intern’s salary and said it was “a new low” for an Irish outreach organisation to have “one of its own” effectively deported from the US.

Body received €1.1 million in taxpayer funding in seven years

The matter became particularly emotive given that the IIIC has received significant funding from the Irish taxpayer to represent the interests of Irish citizens in the United States.

It has received over €1.1 million in State funding since 2006, through the Emigrant Support Programme, in addition to the fees it charges from Irish citizens to process their visa applications.

In response to written Dail questions from FG’s Andrew Doyle and FF’s Brendan Smyth, Gilmore says Ireland’s Consul General in Boston, Michael Lonergan, had sought a meeting with the IIIC’s executive director Ronnie Millar to discuss the incident.

Gilmore said Lonergan had stressed how the Emigrant Support Programme funding would be provided “to organisations who continued to prioritise the interests of Irish citizens and Irish communities” – suggesting those who prioritised other interests would lose their Irish funding.

The Tánaiste added that the IIIC had “since issued a public apology for the manner in which the incident was handled.”

Gilmore further noted that the centre had offered “considerable assistance” to thousands of Irish citizens who had travelled to Boston in the last quarter of a century.

In a statement posted to its own website in the last week, the IIIC recognised that it would have been “more sensitive” to have contacted the student’s host organisation to warn her about her breach of the visa conditions, before immediately telling her that her visa was being withdrawn.

“The IIIC will perform a full review of the management of the J-1 Irish Work and Travel program in order to determine what changes should be made to ensure that our mission of providing support to Irish students and graduates is properly carried out,” it said.

It claimed that the fees it charged did not cover its costs for administering the programme, and that it “cared deeply” about the Irish trying to make their home in Boston and across the United States.

Read: Calls for inquiry after Irish immigrant centre gets J-1 student sent home

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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