Kenny says he is ‘very concerned’ about future of J1

Taoiseach claims number using the US visas could fall by 80% under proposed changes

The number of Irish students travelling to the US on J1 work visas could fall by up to 80 per cent if they are forced to find jobs before they travel as part of proposed changes, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has warned.

Mr Kenny told the Dáil that he was “very concerned” about the future of the popular visa programme, describing the possibility of Irish students being forced to source jobs before they leave for the US as “a serious matter”.

About 7,500 Irish travel to the US every year on a J1 visa.

Mr Kenny warned that the paperwork involved in finding a job before travelling could lead to a reduction of "as much as 60 per cent or 80 per cent" in the J1 visas granted to Ireland.

He said that it could result in Irish students travelling on holiday visas instead and choosing to work illegally.

“I am not keen on a situation where there could be an abrupt ending to the J1 system as we know it, through the dramatic introduction of a requirement for pre-employment,” Mr Kenny said.

"Independent authorities grant these visas. If that is being considered by them, and it is, then there should be a transition period during which young Irish people would be able to go to many different places in the United States and not only be congregated in one or two locations, which has its own implications."

Important connection

The Taoiseach spoke of the importance of the short-term J1 visas in retaining the strong connection between Ireland and the US.

“If that is going to be reduced seriously, then it could cause real problems for relationships in the time ahead,” he said.

Mr Kenny said he was prepared to talk to the US ambassador Kevin O'Malley about the situation and that the Irish ambassador to the US, Anne Anderson, was in contact with politicians on Capitol Hill about the changes.

A spokeswoman for the Irish embassy in Washington said the Government was making its concerns about the possible changes clear to the US authorities and that talks were ongoing "to encourage maximum participation by Irish students in next year's programme".