By Patrick Markey
Students from Ireland are flocking to New York City this year and running head on into two of the Big Apple’s perennial puzzles – where to work and where to stay.
In a city where rent can easily gobble up $1,000 a month and apartments are usually leased for at least a year, finding affordable, temporary accommodation and work appear to be hazards for which many students are unprepared, say representatives from the city’s Irish advice centers.
They relate tales of tearful arrivals desperate for somewhere to stay, gangs of students squeezing into one-room apartments, or paying $30 a night for temporary student housing. And, employment counselors say, still other hopefuls unrealistically expect to find a city begging for summer labor.
“They are so unprepared its not even funny,” said Anne Donnelly, an employment officer with the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, which has been inundated with students looking for somewhere to stay.
While Irish students annually make their way to the city on J1 visas, which allow them to travel and work in the United States for the summer, this year more students heading stateside, and many are foregoing the work visa programs to try their luck in the illegal, underground job market.
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Under the J1 visa program, last year 6,640 students from Ireland and Northern Ireland came to work in America. This year, in addition to 7,000 J1 visa holders, for the first time another 700 students came on a J2 visa, which allows them to work here for a second time.
Students are told about the housing and job difficulties in the cities, but a number decide to stay anyway, according to Orlaith O’Dowd, director of the USIT in America, one of the organizations that provides visiting students with orientation and advice.
“They are told this before they come over. We try to give them the realistic options,” O’Dowd said. A lot of students who come here illegally seeking work are competing for employment with J1 students creating a tighter job market, she said.
In reality, jobs and affordable housing are easier to find away from the big cities, such as Boston and New York, the two main arrival points for students. The handbook J1 students receive at their orientation lists summer employment in coastal resorts and other regions, and that is where most go. But despite advice to the contrary, for some the magnet of the big cities proves irresistible.
“I’ve never seen so many students coming into the city and this is my eighth year here,” said Sister Edna McNicolas, who works at the Aisling Irish Center on the border of Yonkers and the Bronx, a strong Irish enclave. Over 70 students arrived at the center in the last two weeks, about 40 without any accommodation. More than half have J1 status, she said.
“When students arrive here, they need to have secure accommodation for the duration of their stay; it’s no place to come without accommodation,” McNicolas said.