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The J1 summer experience seems to be less popular than it once was.
The J1 summer experience seems to be less popular than it once was.
Image: Shutterstock/miroslav110

Dramatic decline in J1 visa popularity prompts calls for government action

There has been a major decline in the number of Irish students travelling to the US on a J1 visa.
Jan 7th 2020, 6:10 AM 44,082 56

THE NUMBER OF students flying over to the US on a J1 visa is in decline – but the companies that sponsor travelling students say they’re committed to the programme. 

Figures, obtained by Fianna Fáil through a Dáil question, show that the number of students participating in the J1 scheme is dropping. 

Since 2013, when over 8,000 students travelled to the US for summer work under the J1 programme, the number of participants have dropped to 3,392 in 2019 – a decline of nearly 60%. 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs have met with both USIT ande SAYIT – the main sponsors of the J1 visa – to discuss the decline. 

“Our Ambassador in Washington and his colleagues also regularly meet with the US-based sponsors to discuss encouragement of uptake of the programme,” Coveney said. 

Fianna Fáil’s Seán Haughey, the party’s spokesperson on Foreign and European Affairs, said that the scheme was an “intrinsic part of US-Ireland relations” and called on the government to address the drop in participation. 

“The J1 visa programme has been a rite of passage for thousands of students over the years and I believe that the government should actively work to promote the programme,” Haughey said.  

“It’s an intrinsic part of US-Ireland relations and it’s imperative that we maintain the mutually beneficial relationship between Ireland and the United States,” he added. 

Not all the figures were in decline. The number of students taking on camp counsellor roles has tripled since 2011 – but at 1,673 the figure is still a fraction of the numbers taking part in summer work. 

USIT

USIT said that the company was “fully committed” to the J1 programme. 

The company said that the decline can be attributed to the change in rules in 2016, when a pre-arranged job became mandatory before a visa is issued. 

The move was part of an effort in the US to tighten up the country’s temporary visa system. Ahead of the change, there was some speculation about the impact the new rules could have on visa applications. 

The figures show that the number of students taking part in the programme began to drop off in 2016, dropping from 7,001 in 2015 to 4,347. 

The decline has continued since then. 

“As with any major rule change it can take some time for students to adapt to the new process and in organising themselves for their summer,” Lisa Collender, the USIT head of marketing, told TheJournal.ie.

Collender said that the drop in student numbers couldn’t be attributed to the election of Donald Trump as US president in 2016. 

The rule change, she said, was “one of the core reasons and not the ‘Trump effect’”.

Collender stressed that they were trying to make it easier for students to arrange work.  

She said that USIT was organising job fairs and “bringing the jobs and employers” to Ireland.

Minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee, met with US Assistant Secretary Marie Royce in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in December and discussed the J1 programme, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

They added that officials regularly meet with both SAYIT and USIT to discuss trends in the J1 visa programme. 

“In our contact with the agents, we have sought opportunities to support the sector as a whole in order to promote travel between Ireland and the US,” the spokesperson said. 

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Dominic McGrath

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