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U.S. Work Visas In Ireland

Council Seeks New Program Of Work Permits
for American Citizens in Ireland

The Council has asked the Government in Ireland to introduce a program of work visas for American students, and those in America already working in their career fields, to experience the workplace in Ireland, for a certain limited period of, say, 18 months to two years. Currently, no such visa program exists. The U.S. Government has a generous internship visa program in place for Irish citizens to travel to America and work there legally for up to 18 months.

The Council prepared a report describing the current position relating to opportunities for U.S. students and others to legally take paid temporary work in Ireland.

This document was developed with a view to creating further opportunities for Americans to work in Ireland. The student Summer Work and Travel Program known colloquially in Ireland as the J-1 Visa has been operating now for more than 40 years. In 2006, some 7,000 Irish students participated in this program to the United States. This allows them legally to take up paid work for a maximum of four months between June and October.

Our own Council Student Scholars participate in this program - indeed, it is a condition of our Council program that candidate scholars must be eligible for, and secure, a J-1 summer student work visa.

The reciprocal scheme operated by Ireland for American students, known as the Work and Travel Ireland Programme, began in 1976. It was established at a time of economic downturn when quotas were imposed by the U.S. government. It was never expected that there would be an exact balance of numbers. However, to assist the lobbying efforts at the time for increased numbers of J-1 visas for Irish students, it was necessary for Ireland to be seen to be providing a reciprocal opportunity for American students, no matter how low the numbers.

Despite high levels of emigration from Ireland and the then-prevailing high unemployment rate in the country, USIT (the organization in Ireland which currently provides the arrival services and work authorization) has invested considerable effort in promoting in American colleges and universities the concept of American students living and working in Ireland temporarily. As a result of these efforts, the program has grown from zero to where several hundred American college students now avail annually of the chance to spend four months living, working and traveling in Ireland. In 2006, about 550 students participated.

The other opportunity for Irish students to work and travel in the U.S. is the Internship USA program, which is open to enrolled undergraduates, post- graduates and those who are within 12 months of graduation. This program, which offers the facility to Irish citizens to work legally in a position compatible with chosen studies, has been operating for about 20 years. Initially, it only attracted students from colleges in Ireland, north and south, where a co-op placement was mandatory. However, the appeal is spreading and, with new regulations recently passed by the U.S. government, there is now an interesting second strand to this program. Practical Career Training (PCT) opens up opportunities for those already working in their career field to experience the U.S. workplace, again for a maximum period of 18 months.

The troubling and disappointing aspect to this situation is that, to date, Ireland has not yet reciprocated with an internship visa program of its own. Despite the obvious change in Ireland's economic circumstances and the enormous benefits that would flow from such a measure, Ireland offers no Internship Visa Program for U.S. students and others from America to undertake 18-month work assignments in the country. We believe this represents a great opportunity for the Irish Government to inaugurate an initiative that fills the obvious gap that exists here.

We believe that such an action by the Irish Government would be well-received in the bilateral Ireland-U.S. Government relationship. We also know that businesses in the United States with commercial connections to Ireland would welcome such a decision. We urge immediate action in Dublin to introduce the necessary measures to implement the plan.

While there are currently several small internship programs offered by both U.S. and Irish organizations and colleges, these either use the aforementioned Work in Ireland Program, with the obvious restrictions of a non-renewable four-month work permit or, more usually, the positions are unpaid and students enter Ireland as tourists. On an immediate practical level, this explains the great difficulties the Council has been encountering in mounting our own internship programs for post-graduate American Council Scholars.

We do understand that this issue has not yet been formally raised by any group with the Irish government. Thus, we are proceeding with the view that this approach will be received favorably.

In the past, the Government in Ireland has usually displayed strong support (especially through the Washington Embassy and New York consulate) for the J-1 visa program. Clearly, the Department of Foreign Affairs fully understands the great benefits Ireland derives from it. While we are aware of the necessary priority and, at times, exclusivity given to E.U. citizens for work permits and student exchanges in Ireland, we feel the timing for this new measure is right. Clearly, the reciprocal precedent exists for the introduction of this exciting new internship program.

The Council believes it will be complementary to the current temporary student work program. Further, we believe it can be supported as an ideal extension of that concept. We are also in no doubt that it can make a great contribution to developing and maintaining the strong economic, cultural and diplomatic relationships between our two countries. It will also be seen, we believe, as a demonstrable gesture on the part of the Irish government in acknowledging the centuries-old generosity of successive American governments in immigration matters.


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