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

The Irish International Immigrant Centre in Boston reported an intern to US authorities after she got work in a bar.

THERE HAVE BEEN CALLS for an inquiry after a US-based centre set up to cater to the needs of Irish immigrants, which receives funding from the Irish taxpayer, reported an Irish intern to immigrant authorities for taking extra work.

The Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC), based in Boston, revoked its sponsorship of the girl’s J-1 visa after she wrote a piece for the expatriate news website IrishCentral, describing her life on a year-long J-1.

In that column, she mentioned having taken a job in a bar to supplement her income as an intern – an action which, despite being relatively commonplace among Irish people on J-1 visas in the United States, is against the terms of the visa.

IrishCentral reported that the centre had written to her withdrawing its sponsorship for the visa after seeing her column – and also reported that one IIIC employee had admitted to monitoring Irish media to watch out for any breaches of visa conditions.

Having withdrawn its sponsorship, the student was left with no option but to arrange travel home to Ireland, and was forbidden from seeking an alternative sponsor.

IIIC charges students to process their visa applications and acts as the sponsor to clients, thereby taking on the legal responsibility for ensuring they oblige by the terms of their visas.

In addition, the centre has received support from the Government of Ireland, through the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Emigrant Support Programme, every year since 1990. Last year the group was allocated taxpayer funding worth €206,169.

Among the criteria for the J-1 visa is that the holder can only work for their sponsor, and may only work for another institution if the sponsor gives its written consent.

‘A new low’

IrishCentral editor Niall O’Dowd wrote that “because students find it impossible to survive on intern’s wages, [...] many have to find a way to supplement their income.”

He said in his 30 years working in Irish-American media, he believed that an Irish organisation reporting on “one of its own” was “a new low”.

This evening Sinn Féin’s foreign affairs spokesman Seán Crowe called on the Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, to investigate the report.

“While I of course do not in any way condone and encourage anyone to break the terms of the visa, the IIIC and other Irish immigration support agencies should be helping immigrants, rather than acting as immigration enforcers,” Crowe said.

“That the IIIC would reportedly investigate the woman after this article, and then turn her into the immigration authorities, is worrying. These immigrant groups are funded in order to assist immigrants, not turn them in.

“If the reports are true, it begs the question, what exactly are IIIC spending Irish tax payers money?”

Crowe said he would raise the issue at the Oireachtas’ foreign affairs committee, chaired by Fine Gael TD Pat Breen.

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