More than 8,000 Irish students apply for US J1 visas

Wrecking of rented San Francisco property in 2014 did ‘reputational damage’, consul-general says

Travelling to the United States on a J1 visa is possibly the greatest experience that any student could have, but it also brings responsibilities, Minister of State for the diaspora Jimmy Deenihan has told students.

He was speaking to some 150 J1 participants from University College Dublin who are preparing to spend this summer in the US. They were attending an orientation session organised by the US embassy, the Council on International Educational Exchange and USIT.

Members of the group are among the 8,000 applications processed by the US Embassy this year for the summer work programme. Ireland sends more students to the US on the J1 visa than any other country in the world.

Mr Deenihan recalled how some incidents in San Francisco and Newport Beach last summer had received “huge media attention both in America and here so it’s very very important that these incidents do not happen again”.


‘Reputational damage’

Damage done to rented accommodation in San Francisco had featured on local CBS network news last summer and Irish consul-general Philip Grant said "reputational damage" had been done to Irish students in the city.

“You are really ambassadors [for Ireland] and there’s a sense of responsibility on your shoulders,” Mr Deenihan said. “Go there and portray a very positive image of the Ireland of today.”

US ambassador Kevin O’Malley spent several months in Prague when he was the same age as some of the J1 participants “and it literally changed my life...It changed my world outlook. I would say that up until that I did not have a world outlook”. He said the students’ experiences would live with them forever. “You’ll have some really great days. You’ll have some troubling days....but the whole process is something that I believe in very strongly.”

J1 participant Cliona Dodd from Monaghan is going to Chicago with a group of friends. “I have nothing sorted yet. It’s up in the air. But I’m going later than everyone else because I have a work placement so I’m hoping they’ll have everything sorted when I get there,” she said.

Providing focus

Niamh O'Farrell and Lorraine Stack from Co Meath are travelling to Boston together on May 22nd. They have jobs lined up in a restaurant chain, thanks to family friends who live there. "We're going to work there first and then we'll fly to friends in San Francisco and travel with them at the end of the summer," said Niamh. "It gives us something to focus on and look forward to because the exams are coming up soon. We know about 20 people going on the J1."

Ross Hynes said his main aim was to "have fun, make new friends, and earn a bit of money and just do a bit of travelling around America like any other J1-er".

He is going to Isla Vista in Santa Barbara for three months. “Hopefully when I get over there I’ll get a bar job, get a restaurant job, or maybe a job on the beach, something like that.”

Ella O'Neill and Emma Cotter from Dublin are also heading to Santa Barbara. "I have a job confirmed," said Ella. "It's in Abercrombie in Santa Barbara. A couple of us work in Hollister and they offered transfers."

She estimated that it cost almost €1,500 for the flights and visa and accommodation deposit. “It is a lot, but you are buying an experience. It’s like a dream to go to California.”

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times