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Topical Issues debate: Statement by Minister Costello

Visas, Minister Joe Costello, Press Releases, Ireland, North America, 2013
The impact of proposed legislation in the US on the availability of J1 visas to Irish students

The Government fully supports the valuable opportunity that the J1 summer work and travel programme provides for Irish students who wish to work and travel in the United States during the summer period.    The participation of tens of thousands of young Irish people in the programme has made an important contribution to the development of our bilateral relationship.

The issue of possible changes to the J1programme forms part of the broader context of immigration reform in the United States. 

As the Deputy will be aware, the welfare of the Irish abroad has been a top priority for successive Governments.  In particular, the plight of the undocumented Irish in the United States has been a cause of concern for many years and this Government has been committed to a resolution of their situation.  In this regard, the Government has actively pursued our interests in the ongoing debate on immigration reform.

I very much welcome the vote last week by the US Senate to approve a bill that provides for comprehensive reform of the American immigration system.  This is a very positive development that takes us another step closer towards addressing the problems faced by undocumented Irish emigrants in the US.  I strongly welcome the provisions in the Bill passed by the Senate to address the concerns of our undocumented and the specific E3 provisions for Ireland that provide a legal pathway for the future. 

Earlier versions of the Bill and some amendments sought to make changes to the J1 summer programme.  These changes would have included the classification of J1 summer participants as “foreign labourers”, thereby imposing heavy additional obligations on their employers and the sponsoring organisations who operate the programme.  There was also a proposal for each sponsoring organisation to pay a fee of $500 per participant.  The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade listened closely to the concerns of the operators in Ireland and the US, who feared that this fee would render the programme financially unsustainable and force them to withdraw from it. 

The Tánaiste wrote to Secretary of State Kerry to express his deeply-held concerns on this issue.  The Tánaiste also spoke directly to Senator Patrick Leahy, chair of the US Senate’s Judiciary Committee, to explain the impact the measures would have on the many Irish students who benefit each year. 

Following interventions by the Tánaiste as well as intensive lobbying by the Embassy, J1 operators and student groups, I am also pleased that the Bill as passed by the Senate includes provisions that will allow for continuation of the summer J1 visa programme that has meant so much to successive generations of young Irish people.  J1 participants are no longer classified as “foreign labourers” and the proposed additional fee has been reduced to $100, payable by either the sponsoring organisation or the student.  I look forward to the continued successful operation of the programme in future years. 

The legislative process in the US remains ongoing and that we will continue to monitor for suitable opportunities to highlight our interest.