By Ray O’Hanlon
The start of the Walsh Visa program was heralded with some fanfare in Washington, D.C., and hopes are high that the program will prove to be a boost for U.S. peace efforts in Northern Ireland. But against the largely positive backdrop to the program’s launch, a debate is now stirring over the nature of employment being offered to Walsh Visa holders.
The debate is still low-key. Those who are voicing opinions are reluctant to go on the record. The overall attitude to the Walsh Visa program is positive. But the devil, in the eyes of some, is in the working details.
One observer of the Walsh program, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that many of the jobs listed for visa winners were menial and inconsistent with the program’s intended goal of giving visa holders a jump start and the sort of job skills and experience that could be later used to boost economic activity in those parts of Ireland where visa winners come from — the Six Counties of the North and border areas counties of the Republic.
“Delivering ice cream and scrubbing bathrooms is not going to do much good for anyone,” the observer said.
Indeed, some of the jobs listed on the Walsh Visa website do not sound like the kind that will hold the attention of a more ambitious visa holder for very long.
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“Banquet aide and carpet care person are not exactly going to boost someone’s long-term career prospects,” the critical observer told the Echo.
At the same time, the list of currently available jobs under the program is quite extensive and the overall categories of employment span a list that includes hospitality and tourism, customer services, information and communications technology, pharmaceuticals, engineering and several other areas.
Another less critical view of the jobs list came from a source long familiar with the recent history of Irish immigration to the U.S.
“It’s early days yet and we should wait and see how the Walsh program develops. It should be remembered that for many of the visa holders, coming to America and getting a job will be something entirely new.
“The very fact of getting up every day, going to a job and holding on to that job will enable visa holders to develop a resumT that can be used to advantage when they return to Ireland,” the observer, who, like the first did not want to be identified, said.
Another source close to the visa program stressed that visa winners had to chose a job while still in Ireland, secure that job through an interview and be trained for it before crossing the Atlantic.
“The visa winners can choose the job. And whatever the job, the visa holders must be able to make enough pay from it to afford an apartment and health insurance,” the source said.
The source acknowledged that some jobs might be more desirable than others and also stressed that the kind of jobs would likely vary from one Walsh Visa hub city to the next.
“The jobs on offer from Dell Computers in Texas will probably require a higher level of qualification than some others,” the source pointed out.
The Walsh program is now waiting for additional federal funding to be released so that hubs can be activated in New York and Boston. The expectation is that a greater number of hubs will lead to a greater variety of jobs on offer, the source indicated.
“We’re only now dealing with the first group of arrivals and the first batch of jobs available to them. We have a long way to go yet,” the source said.
Meanwhile, the number of Walsh Visa winners who have either gone on the lam in the U.S. or who are now back in Ireland had risen to 10 by this week.
Seventy-seven visa winners arrived in the U.S. recently to take up jobs in the Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia areas.
Several have returned to Ireland for personal reasons, a couple were sent back for not showing up for work, and four have traveled outside the designated “hub-area” and are now considered to be “out-of-status” by federal authorities.
At the same time, the bulk of the first arrivals have now started in their assigned jobs.