Irish at Heart: Get to Work, with the Working Holiday Visa

Irish at Heart: Get to Work, with the Working Holiday Visa
By Natalie Keller

I’m not Irish by blood. In fact, I’m mostly German and Hungarian. However, the tapestry of my heart is a colorful and eclectic one, sewn together by flags of many different nationalities, all blowing together in one wind. The countries that I have visited throughout my life — particularly the countries where I’ve lived for long periods of time, England and Ireland, have become as much a part of my identity as, say, my Eastern European descent or American citizenship.

While it’s not possible to choose our heritage or birth country, it is possible, even imperative, to visit other countries, appreciate varied cultures and religions, read foreign literature, and forge multinational friendships. In these days of rampant nationalism, citizens everywhere are obsessed with national pride in a way that promotes large-scale superiority complexes. This summer, as people all over the globe tuned in to the Olympics, social media spurred an “us versus them” mentality, plastering Facebook with a day-by-day tally of which country had won the most medals. Although the philosophy behind the competition is to promote world unity, many see it as an opportunity to prove their country is one cut above the rest.

In my own country, I feel bombarded by patriotic rhetoric daily. We vow that America is the greatest country in the world despite its shortcomings in healthcare, reproductive rights, race relations, and income equality. I love my country, but I believe that love is a multi-faceted force which must celebrate and criticize in turn, and that national pride without self-critique is not true patriotism, but blind fanaticism.

One way to combat this trend is world-travelling. My first sojourn abroad was a month-long visit to France following my senior year of high school. As a child, it was difficult to imagine a world beyond the borders of my country or even the Midwest, but on the cusp of adulthood, I set foot on another continent, and the planet felt suddenly vast and enormous. And it only grew larger. At twenty, I studied abroad in England for a year, and at twenty-two, after earning my bachelor’s degree, I moved to Ireland.

During those years, I learned that the countries we visit become a fundamental part of us, expanding who we are, how we see the larger world, and whether we feel compassion, rather than contempt, for those who fly a different flag.

Working Holiday Authorization Visa
So what opportunities are out there for the average person to travel or live abroad? And how is any of this pertinent to Ireland, or American Irish relations? This is where the little-known Working Holiday Authorization Visa comes in, and how I managed to live abroad in Ireland as a penniless college grad.

In 2008, Ireland and the U.S. signed an agreement creating the Intern Work and Travel Pilot Programme, which allows recent college graduates of both nations to live and work in the opposite country for up to one year. The qualifications for citizens of both countries are almost identical: anyone over the age of 18 who is either enrolled in college full-time or has graduated from college within the past twelve months is eligible to apply. The program is a celebration of cross-cultural exchange: the Embassy of Ireland describes it as reflecting “the close historical and cultural links between Ireland and the United States.”

US citizens can download the application form from the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and submit it to their regional Consulate, along with a handful of supplementary documents, such as bank statements, travel medical insurance, and the $350 visa fee.

Irish citizens should consult the websites of the US Embassy in Dublin and the US Department of State for more information about the visa. There’s also a phenomenal guide available at

For those searching for an unconventional postgraduate experience, look no further. The visa is relatively affordable and attainable to anyone who has graduated college. Though applications are currently on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two governments aim to resume processing Working Holiday visas once circumstances allow.

A rainbow captured from my apartment window in Galway
Feeling on top of the world at the Cliffs of Moher

Living Abroad
The opportunity to live abroad, not merely to travel, but to make a home there, changes us in more profound ways than a two-week sightseeing jaunt. Beyond its advantages for cultural understanding, the Working Holiday visa is a “growing up” experience like no other.

With the company of two friends, I moved to Ireland and forged my own path. We built a life from the ground-up, crashing in an Air BnB while we secured jobs and an apartment in Galway, set up bank accounts, and obtained PPS numbers and residence permits, all of which enabled us to feel at home in Ireland.

While my study abroad year in England was guided by various mentors and professors, I was the sole orchestrator of my time in Ireland. It was perhaps the first time in my life that I felt like a true adult. Now that I have returned to the States, Ireland is still with me wherever I go. During my time there, I made a lifelong friend who now exchanges Christmas gifts and birthday cards with me across the Atlantic.

When I first met my fellow contributor to this newsmagazine, Regina Costello, at a recent new job, her accent was music to my ears. How strange, that two prior residents of Galway should cross paths in Medina, Ohio! Bonding over this shared past, we became instant friends; yet another example of how world-traveling can enrich your life.

When it comes to nationality, I am inspired by history’s great thinkers: Socrates, who said, “I am a citizen, not of Athens or Greece, but of the world”; Thomas Paine, who declared, “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion”; and Bahá’u’lláh, who wrote so beautifully, “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” I am far prouder to be a member of humanity than a member of some exclusive club; a citizen of Earth rather than simply a citizen of America. 

So, from the moment I set foot on the grass outside Shannon Airport, my heart bloomed green. Though I have since returned to America, my soul will always be overjoyed in the coffee-aftertaste of Guinness, the merriment of Irish jigs, the poetry of William Butler Yeats, and the sight of jagged green cliffs jutting out over an open ocean.


Department of Foreign Affairs,

U.S. Embassy in Ireland,

U.S. Department of State,

*Natalie Keller is a graduate of Kenyon College and a former resident of Galway, Ireland. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in various online platforms, and she is currently editing a novel, much of which is set in the Emerald Isle. She loves to hear from readers at [email protected].

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