Students told they'll now need US jobs before they can get J-1 visas
Thousands of students could lose out on summer trips to the United States next year after the American government changed the J-1 visa programme yesterday.
Under new rules introduced for 2016, all Irish students must obtain work before they travel to America, and have these jobs vetted by the American administration.
The move comes despite direct pleas from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to both President Obama and US Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O'Malley.
Mr Kenny spoke to the ambassador on a number of occasions about proposed changes to the J-1 Visa programme.
He said he feared that the number of students able to avail of the stricter visa rules could drop by up to 80pc.
The new rules will also affect travel within America for students who do get jobs beforehand, limiting their chances to see other parts of the country.
More than 8,000 Irish students travelled to the States this year on the programme, which began in 1961. More students from Ireland than any other country avail of the visa each year, many choosing to seek employment once they arrive in America.
"When the J-1 programme was launched, we saw a surge of 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 recent changed restrictions for the J-1 is disappointing," he said.
"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 they had already lined up thousands of employers for Irish students.
"Job replacement is good news for the approximately 7,000 students that travel to the USA on the J-1 work and travel 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 the new system was also good for parents, who won't have to fund their children while they look for work.
"It also gives the students more time in advance to source accommodation. Students can change to other approved jobs and are not stuck in jobs that they may not like," he said.
A spokesman for the American Embassy was unavailable for comment due to Veterans' Day commemorations.