American visas: The options available to Irish citizens

Q+A: Is there any special treatment at all for Irish people? What are the barriers to getting a green card?

Unlike the green card, which confers permanent residence status, employment visas are time limited and usually employer and job specific. Photograph: iStock

What is the current situation with moving to America?

The holy grail for those hoping to move to the US long-term is the green card and permanent residence status, but in addition to this, there are about 35 other types of employment visas and work permits available.

The range of US employment visas cover most types of employment situations, from trainee internships to professional entrepreneur and expert positions. Unlike the green card, which confers permanent residence status, employment visas are time limited and usually employer and job specific.

So what are my main options?

Aside from the J-1 visa programme for students and recent graduates, Irish citizens only have three main options: to marry an American citizen; get an employer to sponsor them for a H1B visa (which lasts for six years); or the annual Diversity Visa Lottery for a green card - but only about 160 Irish get a green card this way every year. There are also other sector-specific visas such as the I or O visas which apply to workers in certain industries.

What happens if I marry an American citizen?

If an Irish citizen marries an American citizen, they are automatically eligible to file a request for a green card.


Are there any barriers to getting a green card in this situation?

James O'Malley, a New York based immigration lawyer originally from Limerick, says there are about "30 different contingencies" examined, including criminal convictions.

“If you have more than one criminal conviction, even though they might not be that serious, it can affect you . . .There’s a whole list of things that can affect you but the main one is convictions,” he says.

What if I have married an American citizen and have been living in the US. Can I apply for citizenship?

Citizenship is a bit more straight forward, according to Mr O'Malley. "Usually after the number of required years on the green card, the citizenship (application process) only really looks at if there are convictions during the green card phase ," he says.
"A serious conviction during the time awaiting the citizenship, usually five years, that can render a person not only ineligible for citizenship, it can lead to them being deported."

Is there any special treatment at all for Irish citizens?

Not at the moment. During his visit to Co Clare last month, US president Donald Trump said he had intervened with those blocking the stalled E3 visa scheme.
Arkansas senator Tom Cotton blocked the E3 Bill that would have allocated a proportion of visas - currently only available to Australians - to Irish citizens.
"I spoke to the one vote - who's a great senator, by the way," he said. "And we think we're going to be successful. "He [Cotton]doesn't mean to do any harm - that I can tell you. He was telling me he loves Ireland, actually. So I think we're going to be in good shape."

How do people become US citizens at birth?

To become a citizen at birth, you must have been born in the United States or certain territories or outlying possessions of the US, and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States; or had a parent or parents who were citizens at the time of your birth (if you were born abroad) and meet other requirements.
To become a US citizen after birth you must apply for "derived" or "acquired" citizenship through parents or apply for naturalisation.

What about visiting the US in the short-term?

Irish citizens can apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) visa waiver to travel to the United States. The ESTA allows Irish citizens to visit the US for tourism, business, transit, medical and short study purposes without a visa for up to 90 days per visit. Irish citizens must apply online for ESTA. An ESTA is required prior to boarding the air or sea vessel to the United States, and should be applied for at least 72 hours before departure.

What happens if I overstay my ESTA visa?

Mr O'Malley said that overstaying under the ESTA visa "automatically renders a person deportable"
"The bottom line is if a person overstays the ESTA they are in danger of being immediately deported and deportable . . . A person who uses ESTA, they waive any right to mounting a defence to deportability," he says.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times