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 United States and those seeking to enter with a job already arranged.
The temporary work permit would give such people legal status in the United States 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 receive 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 United States, it does offer the possibility of a temporary status, which would enable them to work legally, with the accompanying employment rights and social benefits. Importantly, it would give these workers the right to leave the United States during the period of the temporary work permit and return again. President Bush's proposals will have to be approved by the US Congress and it is too early to say what changes or amendments may be made in the course of their consideration by 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.
It is too early to gauge the number of Irish undocumented who might benefit from President Bush's initiative. Given the nature of the undocumented community it is very difficult to calculate the numbers involved accurately. For its part, the US citizenship and immigration services estimates that Ireland is one of the few European countries for which the number of undocumented in the United States declined during the 1990s, from 5,000 in 1990 to 3,000 in 2000. However, many of the agencies working with our emigrants would place the figure substantially higher.
I can assure the Deputy that the embassy in Washington will follow closely the progress of the president's initiative and the consideration given to it in the US Congress. In particular, it will continuously assess the potential of the proposals to regulate the status of Irish citizens in the United States who remain undocumented.