Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Ceisteanna (49)

Denis Naughten


49. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if progress has been made on establishing an E3 visa agreement between Ireland and the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46480/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Foreign)

It is estimated that up to 50,000 Irish people are living in the shadows, in fear of deportation from the US. The E3 visa legislation was reintroduced to the US Congress during the summer. I seek an update on progress in that regard and the good work done to date by Deputy Deasy.

The House will be aware that the Taoiseach and I have prioritised the issue of Irish immigration in the US since taking office. I have continuously raised immigration issues, particularly the E3 visa, in all my interactions with the US Administration and US political leaders. I discussed these matters with the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and her congressional delegation when they visited Ireland in April. The Taoiseach raised the issue of the E3 visa during his high-level engagements with the US, including during the visit of President Trump this summer. The US President commented positively, indicating his support. I recognise the very strong support we have received from the White House and the US President on this issue. The issue was also raised with Vice President Pence during his visit to Ireland in September.

Our embassy in Washington DC continues its extensive outreach in support of the E3 Bill, working with a range of members from both sides of the aisles of the US House of Representatives and Senate. The special envoy to the US Congress on the undocumented, Deputy Deasy, has worked closely on this issue with my Department, engaging key US stakeholders. He has met senior officials of the US Administration and representatives of the US Congress regarding the Bill, most recently during a visit to Washington DC in September. He is supported in his work by the Americas unit of my Department and our embassy in Washington DC. I understand he will travel there again soon to continue his work.

The proposed E3 visa Bill, which would offer new opportunities for Irish citizens to live and work in the US, was introduced into the US Congress in May by Congressman Richard Neal, who many Deputies will know well. It remains before the House of Representatives. It is my hope that a vote of approval will be passed in this term of Congress and that the Bill will go to the Senate for approval and final implementation. Much work needs to be done for the Bill to become a reality and we are under no illusions as to the challenging path ahead. However, as the Deputy will be aware, we were very close to getting it passed previously. In fact, we were one vote short in the Senate of doing so. I hope this time we will be one step ahead of where we were then. We have many friends on Capitol Hill who have been very helpful in these efforts.

As the Minister will be aware, many Irish citizens have made the US their home. They have family, children and good jobs there and, as good citizens, are contributing to the US. As he will also be aware, during the summer raids were carried out throughout the US which have terrified Irish communities across the Atlantic Ocean. A legal pathway should be put in place and the E3 visa is a mechanism to so do. I thank him for his positive comments on the progress of the legislation through Congress. I urge him to redouble efforts to ensure it passes through the House of Representatives and has an easier ride through the Senate than was the case on the previous occasion.

It is important to state what the E3 visa is and would do. Essentially, Ireland is seeking to avail of unused visas that would have been allocated to Australian citizens. The US and Australia have a unique arrangement whereby a certain number of visas are provided each year.

We are proposing that the unused visas in the allocation for a year be used by Irish people in the following year. We have given an absolute assurance to the Australian Government and its embassy in Washington that we are not looking to take Australian visas. We are simply looking to use unused visas in the following year. That is essentially the approach taken in the E3 Bill which potentially would provide for the allocation of 2,000 to 3,000 visas each year to allow Irish people to travel and work in the United States. The E3 Bill approach is very limited in what it can do for the undocumented Irish in the United Stated who are very concerned. We are trying to find a pathway for them, but that will take a little longer.

We need a clear legal pathway to regularise the status of Irish citizens living in the United States without documentation who are contributing to its economy. Is there an opportunity to have some bilateral arrangement whereby we could reciprocate in regularising the position of undocumented persons living here, particularly US citizens? As the Minister knows, there are many people from outside the European Union who are resident in Ireland who are contributing to the economy, whose children are sitting beside our own in school, learning Irish, playing hurling and football and yet remain undocumented. Can we look at a reciprocal arrangement between the United States and Ireland?

The E3 Bill would require reciprocal arrangements on our side. In return for receiving visas for Irish citizens to enable them to travel, work and live fully documented in the United States we are proposing a package of measures for US citizens who are either resident here or who would like to come here to retire or work. It is proposed to have a reciprocal arrangement. The E3 process would benefit predominantly young people who want to work in the United States, but it might also benefit some who are not so young. In return we would make Ireland an easier place for US citizens to come and work or potentially retire. That is completely different from the issue the Deputy raised at the end of how to deal with undocumented persons resident in Ireland. That is a matter for debate on another day.