I propose to take Questions Nos. 66 and 68 together.
I very much welcome the vote last week by the US Senate to approve a bill that provides for comprehensive reform of the American immigration system. This is a very positive development that takes us another step closer towards addressing the problems faced by undocumented Irish emigrants in the US and will allow them to emerge from the shadows. I strongly welcome the provisions in the Bill passed by the Senate to address the concerns of our undocumented and the specific E3 provisions for Ireland that provide extensive legal pathway for future migration flows between Ireland and the US.
I am particularly pleased that the Bill includes provisions that will allow for continuation of the summer J1 visa programme. Earlier drafts of the bill had threatened the future viability of the programme. I raised these concerns directly with Senator Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I am pleased that the Bill as passed by the Senate no longer classifies J1 summer participants as foreign workers, which would have imposed significant additional requirements on them and their potential employers. Earlier texts had also proposed a further fee of $500 to be paid by the sponsoring organisations; the Bill as passed introduces a fee of $100, and the conditions surrounding payment of this fee would allow for it to be paid by either the sponsoring organisation or the participant.
I pay tribute to hard work and persistence of Senators Leahy, Schumer, McCain and other members of the US Senate bi-partisan group who brought forward the original proposals. I also welcome the considerable bi-partisan support that has emerged in support of the Senate bill and hope that this bodes well for its further prospects.
The prospects for a successful outcome remain uncertain as the focus now moves to the House of Representatives. I look forward to visiting Washington D.C. next week to meet with key figures on Capitol Hill and the Government will continue to use every possible opportunity to secure a positive outcome. I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate my appreciation for the active support we continue to receive from a number of Irish community organisations, including the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, the Chicago Celts and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. In pressing to secure a solution for the undocumented, we continue to work closely with them. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, through the Emigrant Support Programme, has provided funding to a number of organisations active in this area. They will be crucial partners as the immigration debate moves forward and I look forward to meeting representatives of these groups during my visit to Washington DC next week.