The number of students travelling to the US on the J1 Visa Programme has risen sharply in recent years.

That’s according to figures obtained by Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Trade Niall Collins.

Under this programme, students can work and travel in America for the summer.

The figures released to Deputy Collins show that 3,522 people were on the J1 programme last summer.

This is a decrease from 4,190 in 2017 and 4,347 in 2016.

The figures were not yet available for this year.

When compared to 2015, last year’s numbers appeared even starker considering that around 8,000 visas were obtained by Irish students that year.

In 2016, the rules for participating in the programme changed, with the stipulation that people must have a job secured from a US employer before travelling Stateside.

Deputy Collins said this change had “more than likely” contributed to the declining numbers.

“The J1 has been a rite of passage for many Irish students for 50 years with 150,000 Irish third-level students having experienced the US through the programme over that time,” he said.

It is an intrinsic part of US-Irish relations and it is imperative that efforts are made to ensure that we do not lose this vital connection.

“The Tánaiste has informed me that officials from his Department are, in conjunction with US authorities, working to improve the uptake of the programme and I hope that their efforts will result in more students taking part in the programme.

“Our relationship with the United States is too important to let slide”, he said.

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