After 50 years, the J-1 programme is still true to its roots
Since its launch in 1966 the J-1 Summer Work Travel (SWT) programme has welcomed 150,000 of Ireland's best and brightest young people to the United States.
As the US Ambassador to Ireland, and a lucky participant in an international people-to-people exchange in my own youth, I am fully committed to the J-1 SWT programme's continued success. Understandably, over the course of five decades, the programme has evolved.
Most recently, the two largest independent, non-government J-1 sponsors in the United States - Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE) and InterExchange - announced a new policy that will require all of their prospective J-1 participants worldwide, including students from Ireland, the United Kingdom, and other visa waiver countries to have a pre-arranged job vetted and approved prior to the government being able to issue a J-1 visa and travel to the United States in 2016.
The US government is working with applicants, Irish government representatives, and independent US and Irish implementing institutions to ensure that Irish students continue to benefit from the J -1 programme just as they have in the past.
A step-by-step guide to pre-placement and a J-1 application is available at www.J12016.com.
Local Irish overseas partner agencies are also advising students about these changes and, in partnership with independent US sponsors, hosting both virtual and in-person job fairs in the coming weeks and months to connect J-1 applicants with dynamic US employers in many old and new destinations.
The key to success with this latest change is for students to be proactive. We encourage all J-1 participants to plan ahead and register early for the job fairs. At these events, J-1 applicants will participate in interviews with top employers and have the opportunity to accept a job offer on the spot, eliminating some of the greatest stress, uncertainty, and cost associated with securing employment only after arrival on the ground in the US.
Pre-placements also introduce students to diverse regions of the US, expanding and deepening their cultural and professional experiences. From Seattle to Ocean City, Austin to Miami and all points in between, thousands of jobs are available and many Irish J-1 applicants have already received job offers all across the US.
I want to be clear that even as some aspects of the J-1 programme evolve and change, the cultural exchange and entrepreneurial spirit at the heart of the programme remain exactly the same.
The J-1 experience will continue to be a life-changing one that connects the next generation of Irish and Americans and strengthens the bonds of friendship between our two countries.
From living in small coastal towns, to exploring large metropolitan areas, to travelling our country's beautiful back roads, the opportunities for J-1 participants to discover the US and contribute to the strength of our ties are endless.
And, for the 40 million Americans with Irish ancestry, the yearly arrival of Irish students on the J-1 programme provides a connection to our past and powerfully demonstrates Ireland's bright future.
Over the past 14 months, I have served as Ambassador and I've met many remarkable J-1 alumni who represent generations of successful Irish whose J-1 experience played a pivotal role in their personal and professional development-and whose children and grandchildren now continue this great tradition.
Together, I want to ensure we are doing everything we can to support the continued success of the J-1 programme and help talented Irish students successfully navigate this transition.
My team and I look forward to engaging with students across Ireland and we welcome your suggestions and feedback at J1SWTDublin@state.gov and our website at dublin.usembassy.gov/swt.html.
As applicants, their family members and American employers adapt to this year's programme changes, we fully expect that the J-1 class of 2016 will have the same life-changing experience as their predecessors. Here's to another wonderful 50 years together.
Kevin F O'Malley is the United States Ambassador to Ireland