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Saturday 23 September 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Shutterstock/Luciano Mortula - LGM
# rite of passage
Varadkar and Coveney pushing to get J1 visa programme reinstated for summer 2022
The J1 summer visa programme was suspended in response to Covid-19.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS been pushing the Biden administration to reinstate the J1 visa programme by next summer. 

The popular programme was suspended last year in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The impact on the travel sector, and the shutting down of the scheme, resulted in the company that operates USIT Ireland, which dealt with the visa applications, going into liquidation.

Generations of young Irish people have travelled to the states for summers on the visa, with figures showing that more than 3,000 people participated in the programme in 2019.

With the US travel ban lifting in November, the Irish government is keen to get students back over to America next year.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, who did his J1 summer in Washington DC before entering politics, raised the matter at a meeting last week with US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. 

Varadkar is understood to have made the point that the the programme is very valuable, and is not just about summer jobs for students or seasonal labour for US businesses.

Raimondo is believed to be confident that it could resume next summer, though that would be dependent on the public health situation.

“I raised the issue of the J1 summer visa with Secretary Raimondo. I pointed out that it wasn’t just a valuable source of seasonal workers for American business but also a formative experience for a lot of young Irish people who get a chance to discover and even fall in love with America.

“I expressed my hope that both the J1 programme and our work holiday visa programme would operate as normal in summer 2022,” Varadkar told The Journal.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, who was also recently in New York and Washington DC, told The Journal that whether the J1 visa programme resumes will “depend on the trajectory of the pandemic between now and then”.

“For now we have to absolutely focus on the travel ban being lifted and making that a success. We will of course be keeping the work up on J1,” he said.

Speaking during a visit by Taoiseach Micheál Martin last week, US governor Kathy Hochul said the message to global travellers is that the rate of Covid in New York is low, and that New York is “open for business” with museums, concerts and broadway shows all reopened.

When asked about the return of Irish students next summer, she said: “I would absolutely love to see them coming back next year.”

“It’s part of growing up — I spent time in Ireland and London as a student and I’m a better person for having that international experience. I feel it is really discouraging to me that during the Trump administration there was such a suppression of anyone coming here,” she said.

She said that America “needs to get them back” as immigration “is part of our heritage”.

Hochul said the Trump administration had suppressed the entry of people into America and said that she would work to ensure that New York was a more welcoming place.

E3 Visas

While the return of the J1 visa looks likely for a return next year, work is also underway at getting the E3 visa over the line for Irish citizens.

An E3 visa Bill fell at the last hurdle om the US Senate two years ago, but had it succeeded, thousands of extra US visas for Irish people could have been delivered.

While the Bill was passed in the US House of Representatives, without the need for a vote, it hit a serious roadblock in the Senate.

It needed unanimous support in the 100-seat Senate because it was being fast-tracked but a “hold” was put on the Bill by a single US senator, Republican Tom Cotton.

At the time, US President Donald Trump personally spoke to Cotton about his opposition to the bill.

Now, with a new US administration under President Joe Biden, who is not shy about speaking about his Irish roots, there is fresh hope that the visas could be delivered.

Coveney told The Journal: “I had a detailed discussion with Senator Dick Durban on the E3 issue, he is co-sponsor of the Bill that passed the House twice, but not the Senate.

“We are determined Irish people will have a way to travel and work in the United States and we have a lot of friends in Washington who want the same. We are continuing to find ways to help the undocumented living in the US.”

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