By Susan Falvella Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Walsh visas have been given a new lease on life.
The House of Representatives this week extended the sometimes criticized program for another year with a unanimous voice vote.
The move will effectively keep what is more formally known as the Irish Peace Process Cultural and Training Program running through 2005 because visa recipients are allowed stay in the U.S. for three years.
The latest batch of visas, expected to be in the region of 250, will be issued for the fiscal year 2003, which begins in October of this year. The Senate is expected to add its approval to the extension before adjourning in a few days for the summer recess.
Introduced by Rep. Jim Walsh, the New York State Republican, in 1998, the program is designed to provide employment in the U.S. each fiscal year for up to 4,000 young and economically disadvantaged people from Northern Ireland and border counties in the Republic.
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“This program provides an opportunity for young adults to leave Irish neighborhoods of hardship and strife to experience life in a multicultural, multireligious, diverse nation,” Walsh, who is from Syracuse, said after the voice vote.
“Once they return home after three years of working in the States, it is hoped that they will bring with them developed job skills, conflict resolution abilities, and a desire to create a more peaceful Ireland.”
High ideals aside, the visa program has not been entirely free of problems since its inception. Some participants have decried the menial level of positions and lack of training offered during their time in the U.S. Some of the employers of visa holders also complained of the quality and consistency of some participants.
There have also been complaints directed at the primary administrator of the program, a private employment placement company named Logicon, a subsidiary of the Northrop Grumman corporation.
However, Walsh pointed to the overall success of a program that has allowed more than 500 visa recipients to live and work in so-called “hub cities” such as Colorado Springs, Washington, D.C., Boston, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
The program, Walsh said, would be a boon to future private and public investment in the disadvantaged Irish counties covered by the program.
“This program is a relatively inexpensive way to promote peace, reconciliation and stability,” he said.