Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The US J1 visa rite of passage

The Irish Times today features a piece written by a 61-year-old who traveled to the US this summer on a J1 visa. Now, usually J1 visas are used by considerably younger people, as it's designed for students who want to spend a summer working in the US. But, you can be a student at 61, so you can of course work in the US in the summer on a J1.

"Doing a J1" used to be a rite of passage for Irish students, and indeed still is. The popularity of the J1 visa took a bit of a hit post 9/11 when the US gained a reputation for heavy-handedness when issuing visas, but it's rebounded somewhat. However, Australia stepped in to become a favoured destination for Irish students. And, there is always the European mainland (a friend spent a memorable summer in Germany, in sweltering heat, cleaning the tin roofs of a former concentration camp under the watchful eye of a very conscientious foreman).

I "did the J1" in the summer of 1994, when I worked for a traveling carnival on the US East Coast. I spent time in Amish Country, on Cape May in New Jersey, Atlantic City, New York State, and rural Virginia and West Virginia. I have fond memories of meeting Oliver North (whose family is from Cork), calming down co-workers who had Vietnam flashbacks, and one night making an elaborate crop circle. After saving up money at the carnival, I hitched a ride to New York City on the back of a pick-up truck, then flew to San Francisco. From there I took a went down to Southern California and Arizona (Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino, like in the Route 66 song). Then Flagstaff for the Grand Canyon. Then up to the Mid-West where I met my friend John who'd spent his J1 on Cape Cod, and together we traveled to Chicago and then down to New Orleans for the jazz (John is a big jazz fan). After that, we headed to Washington DC, and spent some time there, staying in Georgetown. Then New York, and then back to Ireland to start college again.

Reading that last paragraph, I wonder how I managed to do all that in the days before I had a mobile phone, a US bank account, a credit card, or ready access to email. I wonder now "how did I book that flight from New York to San Francisco" (the answer, thinking back, is that I simply walked into a travel agency next door to the youth hostel near Columbia University in New York City, and paid cash).

I encourage any student in Ireland thinking of a J1 to take advantage of it. Although working for a traveling carnival was insane at times, it was a better experience than flipping burgers on the coast somewhere.

It is a little known fact that the J1 arrangement between Ireland and the US goes the other way too. US students can work in Ireland legally for a summer. We don't have traveling carnivals over there, or a Grand Canyon, but even with an economic downturn there is plenty of casual summer work to go around.

[ Cross-posted to my Travel Blog ]

1 comment:

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