Students scheduled to travel to America for work this summer have been “frustrated and stressed” by long delays and a lack of communication from travel agency USIT.
The company specializes in student programs and students can apply for their J1 visa through their self-placement program which costs €850, or their guaranteed employment program which is €1149.
However, students have reported long delays with applications and many have been left in limbo as summer approaches.
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Trinity student Sarah Domoney sent in her application and documentation to USIT in late January, with herself and three friends planning to be in Chicago by June 1.
Part of the process is having a phone interview with USIT, but Sarah said she was left on hold for long periods of time and was having a hard time getting through.
The student told Dublin Live that she had sent many emails asking for help in arranging a telephone interview, but received no response.
The only communication she received from the travel agency until mid-April was this requesting payment of the balance of the €850 fee.
She said: “As we had sent them a multitude of emails asking for help with the phone interview and asking if they could call us, the only emails we had received from them at the time were payment deadline emails so that was really frustrating.”
Sarah said she paid the balance and contacted USIT for the phone interview in mid-April after being put on hold for 52 minutes.
The call lasted 90 seconds and all the questions she was asked were already answered in the forms she had filled out in January.
Sarah’s application then progressed to the job offer stage and she immediately uploaded all the required forms.
She said that since the phone call last month, the only communication she has received from USIT is that she is unlikely to get her visa in time for her June 1 start date and that they recommended that he change it for the third week of June.
“We started this process on January 28, and then being told in late April that we probably won’t recover until mid-June is extremely frustrating,” Sarah said.
“Currently, we have not received any communication from USIT as to when the forms we sent will be accepted, when we will receive our DS2019 form so that we can apply for an interview with the Embassy.
“It’s USIT incompetence. It’s just a shame.”
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She said she had friends who went with different travel agencies and received their visas without any problems.
Sarah also explained that pushing her travels back to mid-June would make it very difficult for her and her friends to find accommodation as most leases start at the beginning of the month.
UCD student Jenny is one of a group of students who have created a D1 students Twitter account to try to reach the company after many unanswered calls and emails.
She told Dublin Live that she started her application in January and all forms were sent in by February 10, but went months without any updates from USIT.
She said: “I wasn’t getting any response from emails. Then I started getting really stressed in April.
“During all this time, I was not able to get in touch with them at all.
“Time was passing and we were doing exams and homework so we were all so stressed about it. It would ruin everyone’s day if it was brought up.
“When I finished college, I said I had to move on this.
“I still wasn’t able to reach them, so a bunch of us decided to start a Twitter page to get some attention.”
Jenny said the UCD Student Union became aware of the issue and contacted USIT on her behalf.
Following Union involvement, she received a call from USIT this week but learned that they had changed their US sponsor.
Jenny said, “She (the USIT call operator) said I would have gotten emails about it, but I haven’t gotten any emails.”
Jenny said USIT told her that her forms were sent to the sponsor on April 20, but her US employer had not received any contact from the sponsor to date.
“It’s so hard to trust what they say because they keep lying,” Jenny said.
“It’s just a bit of a joke at this point, it’s really awful.”
A USIT spokeswoman told Dublin Live that “volume” is one of the reasons for the delays in applications.
She said, “Like every other business in the cultural exchange industry right now, USIT and other stakeholders in the J1 process have faced many challenges caused by the pandemic, such as high demand, COVID disease, shipping delays and staff shortages.The main difference between us and them is absolute volume.
“There are several different stages for a J1 application, including screening, candidate interview, job matching, job interviews, US employer verification and compliance, and interview with the U.S. Embassy, so the whole process can take time as each application is processed by us and with our U.S. sponsors.
“This may mean that those who applied at the same time as others may not be at the same stage of the process. Some of the compliance required by program guidelines has experienced delays due to a variety of reasons, including documentation incomplete, errors in documents submitted to us, etc.
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The spokeswoman said USIT and the U.S. Embassy are “working closely together to expedite things.”
“We have a team of 20 agents who work tirelessly across the program to handle the high volumes of J1 queries by phone and email,” she said.
“At times call queues can take longer to clear, particularly around lunchtime. We fully recognize these delays and appreciate that this is extremely frustrating.
“We are grateful for the patience we have shown here and ask customers to contact us through one channel and never through social media so that we can keep the process as easy as possible.
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“We continue to hold Zoom meetings twice a week every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. These are available to all customers to provide updates and general information. The link to the sessions is https://www.j1online.ie/events
“In addition, USIT and the U.S. Embassy are working closely to expedite things and create interview dates available earlier so students with completed paperwork can meet their departure dates.
“All of our stakeholders are aware of the delays, and U.S. employers are extremely understanding about delayed start dates. However, if students cannot get a later start date to work for them this summer and wish to cancel the program, we We will refund their USIT participation fees and these are usually processed within 7 business days.
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