Students frustrated with the hidden fees of J-1 agencies

Students can end up paying over €1,200 for a visa.

Hidden fees and strict rules are making working in America on a J-1 increasingly difficult for Irish students.

Every year 7,000 students head across the Atlantic to spend the summer in America under a J-1 work and travel visa. Unlike other visas, an American Visa application cannot be made directly to the American embassy but must be done through designated agencies. These sponsor agencies help students with insurance, locating work and getting through customs.

There are currently five agencies operating in Ireland. They are: USIT, SAYIT, J1 Ireland, Smaller Earth and World Wide Cultural Exchange.

However, Irish students are complaining that the prices of using these agencies are misleading and exorbitantly high. Third year journalism student, Colleen Brady said that she felt deceived when she went to San Francisco last year through the company SAYIT.

“I actually can’t remember exactly how much it cost me but for the visa, embassy appointment, Devi’s, insurance, it was like €800, but then you have to pay for your flights as well.

“I definitely felt misled about how much it would cost; the fact that you have to book your flights through the company is a joke. If I was able to book my flights independently they would have cost me maybe €300-€400 return but for a J1 you have to book flights through the company and they ended up being another €800.”

Sponsor companies have been criticised for hiding the full cost of working in America. On the USIT website for example, the cost of a J-1 visa without aid securing work was €279. However this price excluded the cost of flights, insurance, Sevis fee, USA Embassy Fee, Luggage Tag, USA Sim card and Postal Fees, meaning students could be paying up to €1,291.43.

Second year geography student, Sorcha Donnelly, felt misled with her visa application.

“This year I got the ‘€99 deal’ yet I’ve already been forced into paying €300. I was also forced to reserve flights through USIT… that worked out at €1100 when on sky scanner they were €370.

“I called USIT a few days ago to cancel my booking because I found a cheaper company… Even if I did decide to go with the other company and take the €300 loss it’s probably still cheaper than going with USIT.”

Callum Lavery

Image credit: Shauna Bowers