US visas for the Ir­ish

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - CIARA KENNY

Amer­ica is full of peo­ple of Ir­ish de­scent. Why is it so hard to move there?

In­deed. More than 35 mil­lion Amer­i­cans claim Ir­ish her­itage, but since the mid-1960s, we have had lit­tle spe­cial treat­ment when it comes to ap­ply­ing for visas to live in the US. Ire­land has long ar­gued that the num­ber of visas al­lo­cated to Ir­ish cit­i­zens in Amer­ica should bet­ter re­flect the strong his­toric link be­tween the two coun­tries.

What’s on the ta­ble this week?

Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat Richard Neal and Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can Jim Sensen­bren­ner in­tro­duced a bill to Con­gress, propos­ing Ir­ish cit­i­zens be­come el­i­gi­ble for the E3 visa pro­gramme, cur­rently lim­ited to Aus­tralians.

What is an E3 visa, and why are Aus­tralians the only ones el­i­gi­ble?

Aus­tralia clinched a deal for its cit­i­zens as part of a trade agree­ment in 2005, al­low­ing them to ap­ply for a re­new­able E3 visa to work in the US for two years. The scheme is capped at 10,500 visas an­nu­ally, but only about half are taken up ev­ery year; if this bill passes, Ir­ish cit­i­zens would be el­i­gi­ble for the un­used quota, amount­ing to about 5,000 ev­ery year.

Who will qual­ify?

To ap­ply for an E3, you must have third-level qual­i­fi­ca­tion or 12 years’ man­age­rial ex­pe­ri­ence, and a job of­fer from a reg­is­tered em­ployer.

Is this a deal for the un­doc­u­mented Ir­ish too?

That’s un­clear. Some would meet the el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria, but to ap­ply, they would have to re­turn to the Amer­i­can Em­bassy in Dublin, and risk not be­ing al­lowed to re-en­ter the US un­der the 10-year ban im­posed for over­stay­ing.

Why now?

Ire­land has been pitch­ing for in­clu­sion in the E3 scheme for years; it came close in 2015, but the bill failed to se­cure enough sup­port in Con­gress. This time it has the back­ing of House Speaker Paul Ryan, and pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has also in­di­cated his sup­port.

Is Trump not against im­mi­gra­tion?

At the White House this St Pa­trick’s Day, Trump made “fast friends” with Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar, re­fer­ring to Ire­land as a “won­der­ful coun­try” and sig­nalling his sup­port for a deal for the un­doc­u­mented Ir­ish. The Ir­ish del­e­ga­tion ex­plained to the pres­i­dent that there were only about 10,000 Ir­ish peo­ple now thought to be liv­ing il­le­gally in the US, a fig­ure much lower than the 50,000 usu­ally cited, which pos­si­bly made a spe­cial deal for the

Ir­ish more po­lit­i­cally palat­able. What has Ire­land of­fered in re­turn?

In ex­change, Ire­land would ease the re­quire­ments for Amer­i­cans who want to re­tire in Ire­land. At the mo­ment, all non-EEA cit­i­zens look­ing to re­tire here need to have an an­nual in­come of at least ¤50,000, and are not per­mit­ted to work. In­come thresh­olds may be low­ered for Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, and per­mis­sion given for them to work 20 hours a week.

How likely is the bill to pass?

Im­mi­gra­tion re­form cam­paign­ers say they are “cau­tiously op­ti­mistic”. Chicago-based Sen­a­tor Billy Law­less, ap­pointed by for­mer Taoiseach Enda Kenny to rep­re­sent the Ir­ish di­as­pora, says “it is the best chance at im­mi­gra­tion re­form that we have had in 20 years”.

If this doesn’t pass, what are my op­tions if I want to move to Amer­ica?

Aside from the pop­u­lar J-1 visa pro­gramme for stu­dents and re­cent grad­u­ates, Ir­ish cit­i­zens only have three main op­tions: to marry an Amer­i­can ci­ti­zen, get an em­ployer to spon­sor them for a H1B visa (which lasts six years), or chance their luck in the an­nual Di­ver­sity Visa Lot­tery for a green card, but about 160 Ir­ish win a green card this way ev­ery year.

To ap­ply for an E3, you would need third-level qual­i­fi­ca­tion or 12 years’ man­age­rial ex­pe­ri­ence, and a job of­fer from a reg­is­tered em­ployer

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