Irish companies may benefit from Trump work visa reform

Move towards skills-based immigration system could ‘benefit Ireland more than others’

Between 2010 and 2015, more than 3,200 H-1B visas were issued to Irish citizens. Photograph: iStock

Between 2010 and 2015, more than 3,200 H-1B visas were issued to Irish citizens. Photograph: iStock


Irish tech firms and skilled IT workers may be nervous about plans by US president Donald Trump to overhaul work-visa programmes, but they could ultimately benefit from any possible immigration reform, Ireland’s outgoing consul general for San Francisco has said.

Philip Grant said many individuals and companies are concerned about moves to amend the H-1B visa programme, which permits highly skilled foreigners to live and work in the US for up to six years.

“We had expected prior to Trump that we might see some kind of comprehensive immigration reform that would allow us to address the issues that still exist around illegal Irish here. That’s not likely to happen now and we are probably going to see a move towards a more points-based, skills-based immigration system instead,” said Mr Grant.

“Looking at it selfishly, this is probably going to benefit Ireland more than other countries because that’s exactly the sort of immigrant we have coming to the US at the moment,” he added.

While the top recipients of the H-1B visas are outsourcers and come primarily from India, there is concern that any changes to the H1-B programme could be detrimental to Irish tech firms, many of whom avail of it when setting up operations in the US.

The US government issues 65,000 H-1B visas a year to US employers recruiting and employing professionals in speciality occupations, such as IT. Between 2010 and 2015, more than 3,200 such visas were issued to Irish citizens, with an average of 640 provided each year to IT professionals moving to the US.

Great change

Mr Grant, who is shortly leaving the role he has served in since December 2013, said the nature of immigration to the US, and in particular California, has changed beyond recognition in recent years.

“In the early 1990s most of the Irish coming were coming in illegally to work on building sites and were connecting in with traditional core of networks. Over the last few years, though, the nature of Ireland’s relationship with California has changed substantially, principally due to the tremendous success of the IDA in attracting wave after wave of technology companies from this region into Ireland,” said Mr Grant.

He was speaking at the start of a week-long retreat of chief executives being held in San Francisco. More than 80 entrepreneurs have travelled to the US to take part in the EY-sponsored event, which is believed to be the largest unofficial trade mission to leave Ireland.

“No country in Europe has the connections with California that Ireland has. We tend to take it for granted and think it is a natural right that a global tech giant such as Google would have its European headquarters in Ireland. But in the normal course of events it wouldn’t be the natural home for these companies,” said Mr Grant.