Addressing the situation of the undocumented Irish and reforming our migration arrangements with the United States remain important priorities for the Government in its relationship with the US Administration and Congress. The Taoiseach and I discussed these issues with President Obama when we met with him on 23 May last year in Dublin. During the course of 2011, I also discussed the issue of Irish immigration with Secretary of State Clinton and Senator Patrick Leahy, Chair of the Senate Judiciary committee. I also met with the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform and the Coalition of Irish Centres in New York. The Government has provided almost $365,000 to support that organisation since 2006.
A particular focus of the Government's efforts has been on the achievement of E-3 visas for Ireland. These E-3s are non-immigrant worker visas, renewable every two years and are currently available to Australian citizens. Provisions which would allow Irish nationals to apply for E-3 visas were amongst those included in the comprehensive immigration reform Bill as introduced in the US Senate last June by senior Democrats, including Senators Harry Reid, Charles Schumer and Robert Menendez. This Bill would also have helped to resolve the position of the undocumented, including the Irish. Unfortunately, and not least due to the current US domestic political climate and the Presidential elections taking place there later this year, to date that Bill has not yet received the additional bi-partisan support which it would require to make further progress.
Another significant development occurred at the end of November when draft legislation entitled the ‘Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act' (Bill No. HR 3012) emerged from the House of Representatives. Although the political climate for any immigration reform measures remains challenging, the broad bi-partisan support which this draft legislation secured suggested that there might be scope to make progress on Irish E-3s.
In early December, Senators Schumer, Leahy and Durbin, all of whom hold leadership positions on the Democratic side of the Senate, came together to co-sponsor a further version of the ‘Fairness' legislation that would include provision under which Irish nationals could apply for up to 10,500 E-3 visas each year. The Schumer/Leahy/Durbin Bill (number S.1983) also included ‘administrative waiver' provisions which would allow undocumented Irish migrants in the US to apply for E-3s without suffering certain applicable penalties for having been out of status.
Separately, Senators Scott Brown and Mark Kirk of the Republican Party tabled further stand-alone legislative proposals (Bill number S. 2005) that would also make Irish nationals eligible to apply for up to 10,500 E-3 visas each year but which do not include the additional ‘administrative waiver' provisions. Both Bills have since been referred for examination by the US Senate's Judiciary Committee.
While recent developments have been encouraging, the prospects for these Bills are uncertain. Acting on my behalf, our Embassy in Washington, working with the Irish-American immigration community, continues to engage on an ongoing basis with the US Administration at senior levels and with both parties in the US Congress. I will also be in Washington in early February where I will be engaging with key players to further advance our support for an Irish E-3 visa.