Growing fears over passage of US visa deal for Irish citizens

Doubts raised by number of Senate members over expanding scheme to include Irish citizens

Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan  delivers a farewell speech at the Library of Congress in Washington on Wednesday.  Photograph: Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan delivers a farewell speech at the Library of Congress in Washington on Wednesday. Photograph: Erin Schaff/The New York Times


There are growing fears that a deal to secure E3 visas for Irish citizens may not be agreed in time for the close of the current US Congress, leaving the future of the proposal in doubt.

A Senate decision on extending the visa scheme, which is currently only open to Australian citizens, to Ireland, had been expected imminently, but all 100 senators have yet to endorse the bill.

It is understood that Tom Cotton, a Republican senator from Arkansas, raised fresh concerns this week about the proposal.

While the House of Representatives backed the bill last month, the legislation needs unanimous approval by the 100-member senate.

A vote had been expected late last week after several senators dropped their objections, but there remains at least one “hold” on the legislation, meaning that at least one member of the senate still has concerns.

It was hoped that Ireland could build on political momentum behind the proposal, which has been backed by outgoing speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan.

The proposal for the visa scheme has been picked up by US media in recent days, with some news outlets raising concerns about the scheme.


Right-wing website Breitbart highlighted the story, noting that the proposal would allow “about 5,000 more Irish graduates per year to take salaried jobs in the United States, even though many of those jobs are also sought by debt-burdened US graduates.”

It decried the visa proposal as an “Irish-only bill” that it says could provide the Irish with roughly 50,000 endlessly renewable work permits per decade.

In particular, Mr Ryan has come in for criticism for prioritising the legislation in the final days as Speaker of the House. Mr Ryan is an Irish-American who spoke this year of his desire to become US ambassador to Ireland in the future.

Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii also criticised the move over the weekend.

“Paul Ryan is still the Speaker of the House and they are out of session until Wednesday, with shutdown looming Friday. But, in his defense he IS (checks notes) working on getting more (checks notes again to make sure) people from Ireland into America,” he tweeted, adding: “Seriously, he is doing that.”

But it is understood that President Donald Trump’s administration is behind the deal and could push the Senate to back the proposal.

Mick Mulvaney, who was appointed White House chief of staff late on Friday, is a central figure behind the deal which was discussed during Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s meeting in the Oval Office on St Patrick’s Day.

US Special Envoy John Deasy and the Embassy of Ireland in Washington have been lobbying behind the scenes to get the visa deal over the line.

Crucial for congressional support is the fact that the proposal offers reciprocal arrangements for Americans who want to live in Ireland, including retirees. The details of that proposal will be worked on by the Department of Justice in Ireland and the US Department of Homeland Security in the coming months.