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Walsh Visas unveiled in D.C.; program to start in January

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella-Garraty and Anne Cadwallader in Belfast

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. State Department last week announced details of a new visa program that will allow young people from the North and six border counties in the Republic to receive job training the U.S.

The Irish Peace Process Cultural and Training Program was created through legislation sponsored by U.S. Representative James Walsh, the New York Republican. Each year until 2002, the Walsh Visas will allow as many as 4,000 selected participants between the ages of 21 and 35 to work in the U.S. for up to three years.

The first 40 to 60 participants will enter the program this January.

Irish Minister of State Robert Molloy, who represented the Irish government at the announcement ceremony, said the visa scheme will target employment and training opportunities in such areas as hospitality and tourism, customer service, information and communications technologies.

And while he acknowledged that there is a shortage in the number of qualified applicants for such jobs in Ireland right now, the U.S. visa program offered a unique experience for the pockets of long-term unemployment in Ireland that have not been the recipients of the Celtic Tiger’s benefits.

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Controversies

Meanwhile, against the backdrop of the unveiling of the Walsh program, there has been controversy over the selection of the American firm hired to run the program on behalf of the U.S., Irish and British governments.

Logicon Inc., a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corporation, will fulfill an $800,000 State Department task order as the program administrator during the six-month start-up phase. Northrop Grumman is a major defense contractor, a factor that some observers in Ireland feel undermines its involvement in a "peace and reconciliation" scheme.

"While the initiative is to be commended, it was alarming to read of Logicon’s involvement," the Irish aid group AFRI said in a recent statement.

According to its own website, Logicon "provides technical engineering services to support the development and maintenance of major Department of Defense weapons systems."

Examples include surface/submarine combat systems engineering, next-generation destroyers, amphibious ships, missile targeting, intercontinental ballistic missile modernization, weapons system data processing, and nuclear safety."

"It is bizarre in the extreme that this program, which is supposed to bolster the peace process, will be using a company whose main purpose appears to be training people for war" said AFRI’s Joe Murray.

Murray also questioned whether rural areas along the border could support such large numbers of its young people leaving for the U.S. at once.

"This is too many to leave areas already depopulated of their young people. How will their communities survive if they leave, even if it’s only for three years?

Logicon Information Solutions Project Manager Robert Powell sought during the State Department press conference to minimize his company’s involvement with such military weapons contractors and said that kind of work comprised only 10 percent of Logicon’s total business.

Walsh visa holders, meanwhile, will be provided with temporary non-immigrant visas over the next three years for their training and employment programs. Northern Ireland Minister of Economy and Education John McFall said at the State Department unveiling that the primary focus of the program was to contribute to the regeneration of the Northern Ireland economy.

"The program has the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of those economically marginalized," said McFall. He also said although there would be no outright quotas, "we know traditionally those people have been Catholics in the North and we will look specifically at how this will benefit them."

Concerns from some quarters over the possibility of Irish workers remaining in the U.S. past the designated departure dates should be allayed by one of the designated features of the program, Minister Molloy indicated.

"The carrot that will send people home is the offer of employment in Ireland and Northern Ireland once their training and employment experience is concluded in the U.S.," he said.

The Walsh program entails placing successful applicants in various U.S. cities designated as "hub centers."

However, concern over the process of choosing the designated hubs for successful visa recipients was being expressed this week by the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in New York.

"Our major concern right now is that the hub centers should be located in cities with both existing Irish immigrant populations and Irish immigrant support centers experienced in dealing with the myriad problems faced by new arrivals," Emerald Isle’s Eamonn Dornan said.

Dornan said that Emerald Isle and other immigrant centers were concerned that Walsh Visa holders could end up in cities without Irish support centers. He cited Dallas as a possible example.

— Ray O’Hanlon in New York contributed to this story.

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