Students warned they must find jobs before getting J1s
Thousands of students could lose out on summer trips to the United States next year after the American government changed the terms of the J1 visa programme.
Under new rules for 2016, all Irish students must obtain work before they travel to the States, and have those jobs vetted by American authorities.
The move comes despite direct pleas from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to US Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O'Malley.
Mr Kenny spoke to the ambassador on a number of occasions about proposed changes to the J1 programme. He told the Dáil last month that he feared the number of students able to qualify under the stricter visa rules could drop by up to 80pc.
The new rules could also affect travel within America for students who do get jobs beforehand, limiting their chances of seeing other parts of the country.
More than 8,000 Irish students travelled to the US this year on the programme, which began in 1961.
More students from Ireland than any other country avail of the visas each year, many choosing to seek employment once they arrive in America.
"When the J1 programme was launched, we saw a surge in Irish students travelling to the USA on a working summer visa," said Kevin Donoghue, president of the Union of Students in Ireland.
"It's a fantastic opportunity for personal development through refining independent skills and experiencing another culture.
"The changed restrictions for the J1 is disappointing. It will make it more difficult for students to obtain a visa. I think we are likely to see a drop in the number of students travelling as a result of this."
However, Cork-based Shandon Travel, which runs visa agency SAYIT, said it had already lined up thousands of employers for Irish students. "Job pre-placement is good news for the approximately 7,000 students that travel to the USA on the J1 visa programme," said managing director Michael Doorley.
"We have thousands of qualifying employers lined up with thousands of approved jobs and this takes the uncertainty from students of having to worry about sourcing a job on arrival.
"The reaction from students has been positive and they are already registering and getting on with the new process."
He said parents would welcome the new restrictions, and the rules would make it less likely that students would have to return home early because they could not find work.
"They will arrive straight into a job and start earning money, a situation much welcomed by parents," said Mr Doorley.
He said the system was also fairer for students who cannot afford to travel and then look for work.