Ir­ish in Amer­ica step up ef­forts to se­cure visa deal

Pro­posed scheme would see E3 visa ex­tended to Ir­ish cit­i­zens

The Irish Times - - World News - Suzanne Lynch

As Wash­ing­ton con­tin­ues to dis­sect the re­sults of Tues­day’s midterm elec­tions, which saw the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives re­turn to Demo­cratic power for the first time in eight years, Ir­ish eyes in the US cap­i­tal are fo­cused on an­other mat­ter.

The next two months – known as the “lame-duck” ses­sion as the cur­rent Con­gress sits out its fi­nal weeks – of­fers the best op­por­tu­nity in some time to se­cure a visa deal for Ir­ish cit­i­zens.

Be­hind-the-scenes dis­cus­sions are un­der way to clinch an agree­ment that would see the E3 visa scheme, which only ap­plies to Aus­tralians, ex­tended to Ir­ish cit­i­zens.

Aus­tralia, an im­por­tant mil­i­tary ally of the US, se­cured the cov­eted visa pro­gramme in 2005 as part of a US-Aus­tralia trade deal. It was widely seen as a thank you by the US to Aus­tralia for its par­tic­i­pa­tion in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More than a decade later, Aus­tralians are not tak­ing up the full al­lo­ca­tion of 10,500 visas of­fered each year. Ire­land senses an op­por­tu­nity.

In the fi­nal days of the last con­gres­sional ses­sion be­fore mem­bers re­turned to their dis­tricts for the midterms, two mem­bers of Con­gress – Repub­li­can Jim Sensen­bren­ner and Demo­crat Richard Neal – in­tro­duced a Bill to the house. A vote could take place as early as next week when mem­bers of Con­gress re­con­vene on Capi­tol Hill.

Spe­cial en­voy

John Deasy, the spe­cial en­voy to the US who has been work­ing on the pro­posal with the De­part­ment of For­eign Af­fairs in Wash­ing­ton, and Ire­land’s sen­a­tor for the di­as­pora, Billy Law­less, says the Bill will be dealt with un­der a pro­ce­dure known as “Sus­pen­sion of the Rules” which al­lows the House to process non-con­tentious mea­sures swiftly.

“The E3 Bill as drafted is be­ing viewed as a non-con­tentious mea­sure by both Democrats and Repub­li­cans,” he says. “Hav­ing two long-serv­ing and re­spected mem­bers of Con­gress from dif­fer­ent sides of the aisle in­tro­duce it jointly bears that out.”

But there are many ob­sta­cles to a deal. Firstly, any Bill must be en­dorsed by the Se­nate and needs unan­i­mous ap­proval.

Se­condly, there is the ques­tion of the un­doc­u­mented Ir­ish. The Bill in its cur­rent form re­lates to fu­ture flows of Ir­ish peo­ple who want to live and work in the United States, but sources say there could be room for ne­go­ti­a­tion on the is­sue fur­ther down the line.

Un­doc­u­mented

Ciaran Staunton of the Ir­ish Lobby for Im­mi­gra­tion Re­form says he is wait­ing to see de­tails of the Bill. “While any new visa is wel­come, and we sup­port any op­por­tu­nity for Ir­ish peo­ple to live and work in the United States, we would hope that there is some­thing for the un­doc­u­mented on this,” he says.

Diplo­mats are also sound­ing cau­tion. Ire­land has seen sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives brought for­ward be­fore, only to be thwarted at the last mo­ment.

The Se­nate passed a com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form Bill in 2013, but it failed in the House. Sim­i­larly, a 2015 pro­posal on ex­tend­ing the E3 visa to Ire­land did not se­cure enough con­gres­sional sup­port.

This time, of­fi­cials are also work­ing on a pro­posal to make it eas­ier for Amer­i­can re­tirees to move to Ire­land, by low­er­ing the in­come thresh­old re­quired and per­mit­ting Amer­i­cans to work for up to 20 hours a week.

What­ever hap­pens in the com­ing weeks, the quest for a new visa pro­gramme for Ir­ish cit­i­zens should con­tinue. The visa, which is seen as an al­ter­na­tive to the H-1B visa, is a two-year re­new­able visa which cov­ers spouses. It is also less costly to se­cure than the H-1B pro­fes­sional visa. Up to 5,000 visas a year could be made avail­able to Ir­ish cit­i­zens.

New paths

With the num­ber of Ir­ish peo­ple choos­ing to live and work in the United States on a steady de­cline for years, se­cur­ing new em­i­gra­tion paths is cru­cial if Ire­land wants to con­tinue the deep cul­tural and eco­nomic links be­tween Ire­land and Amer­ica.

Next week the heads of Ire­land’s diplo­matic mis­sions across North Amer­ica will gather in Wash­ing­ton. The an­nual gath­er­ing comes af­ter the Cab­i­net in Dublin was briefed last week on the new Ire­land-US strat­egy, part of the Gov­ern­ment’s ef­fort to dou­ble Ire­land’s global foot­print by 2025.

Among the pro­pos­als are to in­vite more Amer­i­can politi­cians to visit Ire­land, and step up en­gage­ment with con­tacts on Capi­tol Hill – a strat­egy be­ing pur­sued by the em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton for many years.

Given that the United States is Ire­land’s num­ber one trad­ing part­ner out­side the EU, nur­tur­ing the Ir­ish-US re­la­tion­ship should be a key diplo­matic pri­or­ity in the years ahead.

While any new visa is wel­come, and we sup­port any op­por­tu­nity for Ir­ish peo­ple to live and work in the US, we hope there is some­thing for the un­doc­u­mented on this

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