How to get a J1 internship in tech, with the help of Irish ex-pats

27 Aug 2015

Rather than spend your J1 working in a banana stand, why not spend your time getting some priceless intern experience in some of New York’s largest tech companies with the help of some Irish ex-pats at Digital Irish.

The J1 internship visa remains popular among Irish students and graduates alike,

This year alone, 8,000 students applied for the visa, which allows students to live and work in the US for a period of up to five months, with many happy to do any work to fund their US adventure.

However, an increasing number of students are going to the US to get in on the action when it comes to some of the fastest-growing tech companies in the world, hoping to bag a valuable internship that will shine on their CV.

This is easier said than done on many occasions, but now one organisation – Digital Irish – is looking to bridge that gap.

Started by Feargall Kenny in late 2013, Digital Irish was born from what Kenny saw as a ‘critical mass’ of Irish start-ups looking to establish in New York, which he saw as needing its own dedicated group to help them get introduced to the right people.

But now, the Digital Irish team, which includes Dublin’s Commissioner for Start-ups Niamh Bushnell, is expanding its remit to help connect students in its inaugural, and somewhat experimental, J1 student programme.

Digital Irish banner

Irish of New York

Speaking to, one of the team members of Digital Irish, Gavin McMahon, says it’s mostly about breaking down bureaucracy barriers.

“This is the first year of the [Career Development Programme] so we’re really testing the waters to gather feedback about how we can better help Irish graduates in the future,” McMahon says.

“Visa sponsorship (e.g. H1B) can be time-consuming and expensive for both the employer and potential employee, immediately creating a barrier. Approximately 85,000 applicants received their H1B visa last year, due to limited availability, from the 172,500 people that did apply.”

One of the biggest things in Digital Irish’s favour is New York’s well-known Irish ancestry ties and the group says that it has already helped them connect with companies and organisations who are more than happy to get Irish people onboard.

“The support we’ve received from the Consul General of Ireland in New York, Barbara Jones, has been tremendous in helping us spread our mission,” McMahon said.

“Almost 11.6pc (or 35.5 million) Americans identify as being of Irish ancestry and certainly those in the business community are really proactive in finding and interacting with each other. I’m consistently amazed by the passion and willingness expats share in seeing Ireland prosper.”

For this year’s programme, Digital Irish says it has 25 positions available for Irish J1 students to snap up in a huge variety of fields in the digital and creative fields, including sales, marketing, engineering, business development, account management, journalism and social media management roles.

NewsWhip Kevin Lowe

NewsWhip’s Kevin Lowe. The organisation credits Digital Irish for helping them break the US. Image via Digital Irish

Advice for J1 applicants

The programme is open to applicants to apply now and to help Irish interns find their ideal role, Digital Irish has teamed up with the Dublin-based recruitment start-up Jobbio as the web portal to list the available positions in the Big Apple.

“We’ll review the applications on Jobbio and match graduates with the types of companies in industries they would be interested in,” McMahon says. “Our role is to create introductions and allow the graduates to take ownership of the opportunity.”

New York skyline image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey
By Colm Gorey

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic. He joined in January 2014 and covered AI, IoT, science and anything that will get us to Mars quicker. When not trying to get his hands on the latest gaming release, he can be found lost in a sea of Wikipedia articles on obscure historic battles and countries that don't exist any more, or watching classic Simpsons episodes far too many times to count.

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