Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (242)

Michael Ring

Question:

359 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department have received information on the recent immigration reform announcement by President Bush; if the Government had discussions with the US Government regarding Irish illegal immigrants; the way in which the recent announcement will affect them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1414/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

On 7 January 2004, the President of the United States announced a new immigration initiative, entitled fair and secure immigration reform. Under the initiative, the President is proposing the creation of a new form of temporary work permit which would be available to both undocumented foreign nationals currently in the US and those seeking to enter with a job arranged.

The temporary work permit would give such people legal status in the US for three years, with the possibility of renewal. Recipients of these permits would be able to apply for permanent residence in the US but would not get preference over other green card applicants. Workers who did not qualify for permanent residency status when their temporary work permits expired would have to return to their country of origin.

While the proposal does not ensure permanent legal status for the undocumented in the US, it does offer the possibility of a temporary status which will enable them to work, with the accompanying employment rights and social benefits. Importantly, it gives these workers the right to leave the US during the period of the temporary work permit, and return again.

The President's proposals will have to be approved by the US Congress and it is too early to say what amendments may be made in the course of their passage through the congress. Nevertheless, I welcome this initiative which represents an important first step in addressing the situation of undocumented foreign workers in a pragmatic and compassionate way.

I assure the Deputy that the embassy in Washington DC will follow closely the development of the President's initiative and the consideration given to it in the US Congress. It will, in particular, continuously assess the potential of the proposals to regulate the status of Irish citizens in the US who remain undocumented.