Friday 30 September 2016

Chaos as students forced to cancel J1 summer last-minute because of strict new rules

Catherine Devine

Published 20/05/2016 | 15:42

Conor Cremen, Tomás O'Donovan and Conor Lyden are affected by the issue (Inset: Eimear Shovlin said the situation had a 'domino effect' on her friends)
Conor Cremen, Tomás O'Donovan and Conor Lyden are affected by the issue (Inset: Eimear Shovlin said the situation had a 'domino effect' on her friends)

Irish students looking forward to a summer abroad in the US have been forced to cancel their trips last-minute as a result of strict, new J1 rules.

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More are in a rush against the clock to check all the boxes according to the new changes to the J1 Work and Travel Visa programme.

College students are experiencing chaos as they are caught in a catch 22 situation and are struggling to complete vital documents in time.

This year, Irish students must have their job approved before entering the country but many students are struggling to work with the Irish and American J1 companies.

Student Tomás O'Donovan has lost over €1,000 after he had to cancel his trip because his job was not approved by a US agency on time.

Tomás, from Cork,  had paid Mayo-based J1 company TravelBug €799 to help him through the J1 process and to obtain a J1 Visa.

Eimear Shovlin said the situation had a 'domino effect' on her friends
Eimear Shovlin said the situation had a 'domino effect' on her friends

TravelBug work with the American Work Adventures (AWA) agency in the US to approve students’ jobs and to issue them with a DS2019 form, which is needed to get a work visa from the American Embassy.

“I just got word from TravelBug that they will not be able to get me a visa. I was due to fly out to America next Friday. They just said they had exhausted every possibility.

"To be fair to TravelBug I'm probably inclined to believe them that the problem is at the American end,” said Tómas.

“My job was approved by the AWA so I can’t understand why my visa wasn’t approved. I was on a J1 last year and worked in the same place.”

Conor Cremen, Tomás O'Donovan and Conor Lyden are affected by the issue
Conor Cremen, Tomás O'Donovan and Conor Lyden are affected by the issue

While TravelBug said they’re going to refund €700 of the €799 Tómas paid he said he has still lost a lot of money.

“In total I will lose out on the €500 I paid for flights, €450 deposit for accommodation and the €99 euro deposit for TravelBug.”

It’s a catch 22 for other Irish students as they need their job to be approved in America before the DS2019 form is issued.

This form is needed for students to get an interview with the American Embassy to approve a J1 work visa for the students.

No embassy means no airport for the Irish students and even after they get their embassy appointment, students’ passports are held for up to five days before the visa is received.

Eimear Shovlin from Donegal booked her J1 with the company SAYIT, who work with the American agency InterExchange.

She started her J1 process in January and only got word back recently that her job wasn’t approved by InterExchange.

“I wouldn’t even have minded if they had told me sooner that my job was rejected. They said that they couldn’t get in touch with my employer to approve the job but that’s not true," she said.

"My employer filled out the necessary forms, she gave her tax and business numbers and then we were waiting to hear back about whether it was accepted or not. My employer even signed up for email notifications but didn’t hear anything back,” Eimear said.

“Nobody rang me to let me know and it didn’t make sense because nobody had contacted my employer either.”

“I’m in the position now where I’d have to fill out the application forms again with my employer and I’d have to go through the process of giving all the information again which I did in January.”

“Now, I’m not going on a J1, I’m not going through the application again.”

Eimear said she paid SAYIT €290 so far, and has been getting messages to pay the remaining €400. “I told them I wasn’t going to pay it until my job was sorted. Luckily I didn’t pay that or book my flights. I begrudge giving them any money.”

Eimear said that not going on the J1 had a 'domino effect' on her friends; “We had an apartment sorted and when I refused to sign the sub-lease the landlord threatened to take the lease off the other girls until they found someone else.”

“There was nothing I could do,” she said. “I just don’t understand what’s going on.”

Olive Weeks rang RTÉ’s Liveline to share her daughter Niamh’s experience with the J1 application.

“She should be travelling on Sunday but she had to change her flight to the following Saturday but she doesn’t think she’s going to make that flight either,” said Olive.

Niamh arranged her J1 with USIT, who work with the American Agency, Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), to approve students’ jobs.

“She had her job offer arranged by the April 10 and sent it off. USIT told her she’ll have to wait for CIEE to approve her job. So she got her employer in Ocean City to ring them and they told him that she wasn’t on the system so she went back to USIT again and they said that it must be a mistake because her job form was sent off.

“She got her employer to ring again and she was told she still wasn’t on the system.

"One day USIT said that they had re-submitted her form but didn’t tell her why they did it so then they told her that her job was approved on May 10 but she knew at that stage she knew she wouldn’t be there by her start date which was May 22 so her employer had to contact CIEE again to give them a new start date,” Olive said.

Niamh still doesn’t have her DS2019 form and she was told it would take two weeks to come. When her form does arrive, she’ll then have to go to the American Embassy to get her visa.

“It’s highly unlikely she’s going to make her flight on Saturday week,” said Olive.

USIT released a statement that said: “If anyone is experiencing delays, we urge them to get in touch with us and we will do all possible to help expedite where ever possible.”

The statement said that delays have occurred due to student’s applying late, the US Servis system crashing, and with employers delaying in providing necessary documentation.

SAYIT and TravelBug were contacted but were unable to comment.

Tonight the US embassy in Ireland said it would accommodate students who had encountered last-minute processing issues.

In a statement a spokesman said they were now engaging with a number of independent US sponsors to ensure that affected Irish students who are eligible and qualified to participate in the J-1 program this year "have every opportunity to do so".

He continued: "All Irish J-1 SWT applicants who apply for visas between May 23 and June 17, and whose visas are approved, will be permitted to collect their passports from the U.S. Embassy in Ballsbridge within two working days after their scheduled interviews. 

"Passport/visa collection will be at 2:00 p.m. and must be in person.  In a small number of visa applications, additional administrative processing may be required.  If that situation applies to any J-1 SWT applicant, U.S. Embassy Dublin will contact him/her immediately."

The spokesman confirmed that they became aware of the problems earlier this week.

Since its launch in 1966 the J-1 Summer Work Travel program has welcomed 150,000 Irish young people to the United States.

The embassy spokesman said: "We remain committed to the continued success of the J-1 program."

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