Boston centre could ‘greatly improve’ dealings with Irish interns, report recommends

Immigrant centre criticised for being harsh in handling intern who violated visa terms

 The Department of Foreign Affairs commissioned report on immigrant centre in Boston. Picture: Bryan O’Brien

The Department of Foreign Affairs commissioned report on immigrant centre in Boston. Picture: Bryan O’Brien


A publicly funded immigrant centre based in Boston could “greatly improve” how it interacts with Irish students and graduates it helps on US internship programmes, a Government-commissioned report has concluded.

The Irish International Immigrant Centre was criticised in the report, commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs, for the way it handled the case of an Irish graduate working unpaid as an intern at New York-based online publisher Irish Central.

The intern violated the terms of her year-long intern visa by taking paid employment during her internship and was forced to leave the US after the centre withdrew its sponsorship of her visa. The centre later apologised to the intern.

Boston-based attorneys John Foley and Bill McNally concluded in their report the centre delivered messages to the intern “in a clear but perhaps overly firm and unrelenting fashion”.

The centre became aware the intern had worked for pay in an Irish Central blog she wrote on her personal experience in the US when she referred to how she had to take on paid employment to make her stay in the US affordable.

Violation of terms
The blog later appeared in the Irish Emigrant newspaper. The centre immediately telephoned the intern to tell her she had violated the terms of her intern programme under the J1-IWT visa programme and that they were changing her status on an official visitor information system to “programme completed”, giving her 30 days to depart from the US.

The report noted press and blog reports of the incident with the intern pointed to “a heavy-handedness in the interaction of the IIIC with this particular intern”.

“We do feel the IIIC can do a better job managing this difficult interface between itself and the interns,” said the report, which the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade received yesterday.

“For instance, one aspect of this incident that would appear harsh to those unfamiliar with the field was a demand by the IIIC for the intern’s precise departure details.”

The report found the US department of state requires the centre to obtain these details but that the centre should have communicated this better to the intern. “We believe this is more than a nuance,” said the report’s authors.

‘Tone and persona’
“We feel it is critical for the IIIC to examine its ‘tone’ and persona as it shapes its interaction with its clients. This will perhaps lead to fewer incidents of rancour and bad publicity similar to the one it has just experienced.”

The report noted that, following this episode, the centre had already proposed changes including to the information it provided to interns and offering professional development training for staff.

While the centre was correct in the substance of its communications with the intern, the means of delivery “can be unduly blunt and appear harsh to the recipient,” the report said.

The centre was also praised in the broad review of its operations for “delivering a very valuable bundle of services to immigrants in general and to the Irish immigrant community in particular”.

520 participants
There have been 520 Irish students and graduates who have participated in the J1-IWT internship programme through the centre, of which 370 have completed the programme.

The centre has received complaints from only five participants, the report said.

“The general quality of its services appears to be high,” the report said. “It was described by one DOS [department of state] official as the ‘gold standard’ of the agencies working on the implementation of the J1-IWT programme.”

The Government provided the centre with $260,00 (€193,000) of public funding last year for legal support, health programmes for immigrants struggling with substance abuse, and suicide prevention.