Thursday, 23 April 2009

Ceisteanna (12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

9 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the discussions which have taken place with the US authorities regarding the issue of immigration reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14475/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Breen

Ceist:

11 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, further to Parliamentary Question No. 760 of 27 January 2009, if there is progress on the case for the undocumented Irish in the US; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15859/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

22 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, during his recent visit to the United States, he had discussions regarding the plight of the undocumented Irish there; the persons with whom he had the discussions; the likelihood that their problem will be addressed and solved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14291/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Upton

Ceist:

31 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the campaign by the undocumented Irish community in the USA to have their status legalised; the efforts he has made and will make to promote this campaign; the steps under way at the present time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15365/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

43 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he has taken in relation to the three pronged approach in the United States involving the J visa, the E-3 visa and the undocumented Irish in America; and the next steps he will take in relation to the third prong, that is, the undocumented. [15862/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Michael Ring

Ceist:

140 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has met with or spoken to his counterparts in the United States in the past two months in relation to the undocumented Irish in America. [15958/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Michael Ring

Ceist:

141 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if meetings have been arranged in relation to the undocumented Irish in the United States in the past two months; if meetings have taken place in the past two months; and if so, the outcome of these meetings. [15959/09]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 11, 22, 31, 43, 140 and 141 together.

The Government remains steadfast in its commitment to developing our bilateral migration arrangements with the United States, including finding a solution for our undocumented citizens.

The Taoiseach and I emphasised the importance of this issue in our engagements with the US Administration and Congress during our visit to the United States for the St Patrick's Day period.

Our support for the undocumented and for a new E3 bilateral programme was highlighted during our meetings with President Obama, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy. In addition, I raised the issue at my meeting with Secretary of State Clinton and in my discussions with Senator Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Zoë Lofgren, the respective Chairs of the Senate and House subcommittees on immigration.

At each of these meetings, the Taoiseach and I outlined how, in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, the Government has been actively pursuing a bilateral approach, aimed at facilitating greater legal migration between the two countries. We recalled our three-pronged strategy: a reciprocal Working Holiday Agreement (now operational); new bilateral arrangements to provide reciprocal long term E3 working visas; and a solution for our undocumented.

The provision of long term working visas similar to the E3 visas available to Australian citizens has already formed the basis for detailed discussions with senior members of Congress over the past twelve months. The inclusion of Ireland in an expanded version of the E3 programme would provide extensive new opportunities for Irish people to work in the United States and help ensure that a new generation of undocumented Irish does not develop. I am pleased to report that we received an encouraging response to this initiative during our meetings in Washington. Discussions on the detail will continue, in the first instance through our Embassy in Washington.

The clear advice we received from both the Administration and Congress is that the position of undocumented residents continues to be a matter of considerable political sensitivity in the US. Those to whom we spoke were clear that it will not be possible to address the situation of the undocumented through an E3 visa facility and that the issue can only be tackled in the context of comprehensive immigration reform. We received no encouragement that it would be possible to address the situation of undocumented Irish immigrants in isolation from other ethnic groups.

As the Deputies will be aware, President Obama and other senior members of the new Administration, including Secretary of State Clinton, have been strong supporters of comprehensive reform. While mindful of the considerable challenges ahead, indications over the Easter period that the Administration is about to begin an extensive consultative process on this issue are encouraging. The fact that the two main Labor Unions have recently announced a common approach to the issue is also considered helpful.

The Government is determined to continue to highlight the difficulties facing our undocumented citizens and to press for reform. I doing so, we will continue to work closely with our many friends in the Administration and on Capitol Hill, and with Irish community organisations in the United States, including the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, with whom I met in New York in the course of the recent visit.