‘Why should Irish immigrants be treated better than others?’

Talk of a new visa deal between Ireland and US gives many hope, but some readers have reservations

Around 35 million people in America claim Irish heritage, but immigration reform campaigners have long argued that the number of visas allocated to us does not reflect this strong historic link. The Government claims to be close to a landmark visa deal that could allow thousands of Irish people to live and work there, in exchange for allowing more Americans to retire in Ireland.

Under a Bill that has been brought to the House of Representatives, Ireland would be allocated the portion of two-year E3 visas not taken up by Australian citizens, which could amount to around 5,000 visas a year. In return, the income threshold for Americans looking to retire in Ireland would be lowered from the current figure of €50,000 per year, and they would be allowed to work for up to 20 hours per week.

Irish Times Abroad asked readers what they thought: below is a selection of responses we received from Americans wanting to retire in Ireland, Irish people wanting to work in America, Irish community representatives, immigration attorneys, and more.

Brian Sheil: ‘I have been trying to move to LA for three years’

I’m a music producer from Co Carlow. I have been trying to move to Los Angeles for three years. I have been offered three jobs within the US, but no company is willing to sponsor me for an O1 (“Extraordinary Talent”) visa because of the burdensome process for employers. I’m hoping this new E3 Visa may alleviate this problem. I have a first class honours degree in music production and engineering, and 10 years of experience in the entertainment and music industry. It’s frustrating to see many people allowed to work in the US through the diversity visa lottery system; a merit-based system for visa applications and renewal is a better policy. American is definitely not getting its finest through this pot-luck lottery process.


I congratulate John Deasy, Ireland’s special envoy to the US, on all of his hard work on this issue so far. I could never understand why this hasn’t gone through before, in respect of Ireland’s very unique relationship with the US. Irish people have much to offer to the US economy.

Fergal O’Ceallaigh, Santa Clara: ‘This will further strengthen the ties between our countries’

I'm both an Irish and an Australian citizen. I moved to the US on the E3 programme this year. The programme was created as a part of the Australia/US free trade agreement and it provides a very flexible and accessible mode of entry for Australians with a job offer in the United States. It is not nearly as restricted as the H1B, and grants work rights to any accompanying family members. It is also available to small businesses, not just the large tech companies that dominate the H1B allocations. If Ireland is lucky enough to be included, it will further strengthen the ties between our countries.

Rebecca Feely, New Jersey; ‘It is our duty to stand up for the voiceless’

As a dual citizen of Ireland and the US, a visa was never something I had to worry about. The most I had to contend with when I moved to the US last May was how to navigate the healthcare and the tax systems. This privilege I was born with is not afforded to everyone, so when I initially heard the news about a new visa deal for the Irish, I was thrilled. The idea that the door to America could be open to more people (including my friends and family) filled me with joy.

But what struck me next was the ideology behind it. While Irish immigrants are still classified as immigrants in America, the majority of us are white, and therefore not perceived as a threat. “You’re alright, I don’t mean you,” is a common response when someone complaining about immigration is challenged by an Irish person. America opening their doors to more majority white Irish people is not an issue, but if your skin is darker or you speak with a non-Western accent, it is.

Immigrants in the American right-wing media are vilified on a daily basis. President Donald Trump recently referred to the caravan of refugees and migrants making their way to America as an "invasion". These are people who want to enter the country legally and have the opportunity to work and build better lives for themselves. One would think that these are the people the administration should be creating visa programmes for so that they can enter the country legally and safely, but they're not.

While I am excited at the idea of more of my countrymen and women being able to emigrate here legally, my heart sinks when I remember the men, women and children fleeing violence and injustice, who the US is turning its back on because of the colour of their skin. So remember Ireland, we are in a position of privilege, and it is our duty to use that privilege to stand up for those whose voices are falling on deaf ears.

Elaine Martin, Dallas: ‘It will not help the undocumented’

I am an immigration lawyer in Dallas. I work with a lot of Irish immigrants who would welcome this development. My focus is primarily business immigration, so am very familiar with the H-1B, E-3, and other categories. This deal would not help the undocumented who have overstayed their authorised stay by more than six months unless there were other changes to the law. Those undocumented immigrants have a three-year ban (10 year ban if they overstayed by a year) that is difficult to overcome.

Anonymous, Seattle: ‘I am travelling in and out in fear of being deported’

I started working for an Irish company here two months ago. My visa is still pending. I don’t want to live here permanently but the company needs an Irish director to manage its investment. After spending $100m to buy a business that employs 200 Americans, it makes no sense that we cannot have one employee here to manage our investment. I am travelling in and out in fear of being deported, I cannot open a bank account or rent an apartment.

K. G. O’Neal, Seattle: ‘I want to retire in Ireland’

I lived in Ireland for two years and loved it. I was planning to move back to Ireland permanently once I began collecting social security benefits, but the current income requirements for American citizens is too expensive for me to afford. I’m more than willing to spend my retirement cheques in Ireland, but cannot do that if I am expected to have access to a large amount of cash upfront. I would welcome the easing of this restriction.

Susan Malone: ‘All we want is to live in Ireland’

My husband and I have been affected adversely by the 2015 income changes by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service. We bought our cottage in Co Galway in 2014. We then prepared for our retirement by selling everything we owned in Minnesota, and renovating our cottage. Unfortunately our dream has become a nightmare trying to stay in Ireland. We did not have surplus funds and our income was slightly less than the outrageous €50,000 each, but we owned our cottage outright. We have spent thousands on legal fees trying to stay in Ireland. We have proved we are not a burden on the State, yet we are still only allowed to stay for 90 days at a time. We now have to rent a residence in Minnesota, and are less financially independent. This Bill would be a godsend! All we want is to live in Ireland, in our cottage, and be left alone to retire in peace.

Cyril Regan, chairman of the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform  

Any news on new visas for the Irish is good news. This deal is a step forward. But there are 50,000 Irish over here who are undocumented, and we haven’t lost sight of them.

The fear of being deported here is very real at the moment. The majority of the Irish over here are in jobs or are employers, some have a few hundred employees. They have kids and grandkids, they are paying their taxes and doing everything that American citizens have to do. But American people are not educated about what the undocumented are doing here.

We have to bide our time on this issue and wait for the right opportunity to arise to make a deal for the undocumented. We can’t go out on a limb hoping for a special deal for the Irish that the Hispanic or other immigrant communities won’t get. There is power in alignment, power in numbers.

Anonymous, Philadelphia: ‘An influx of elderly patients may place a strain on the health service’

As an Irish doctor working in America, I think the Irish Government needs to consult the health service on this one. American patients on the whole are a different breed than the Irish; fairly demanding (rightfully so you could argue), and used to a fully private system. An influx of elderly patients using our health system may contribute funds if American insurance is charged, but may also place a considerable strain on an already thinly stretched health service.

Steve Lenox, president of the Irish Network USA: ‘I’m hopeful this deal is a return to people over politics’

Generations of Irish immigrants have come to the United States, contributing greatly to efforts to make our nation what it is. Communities all over the nation have quite literally been built through their hard work and ingenuity. Efforts to stifle the entry of hard working men and women that have so much to offer, no matter what nation they hail from, have been wrong-headed. People fuel the economy. More sensible immigration policies will allow for us to attract and retain the best and brightest who bring intellectual and human capital to the US.

Earlier this week record numbers of voters made it clear that they want a return to the direction our nation was founded on, one that celebrates diversity and welcomes immigrants that want to make positive change. I am hopeful that this potential deal is not another false start when it comes to immigration reform, but rather a return to sensible policies that put people over politics.

Deirdre Madden, Brisbane: ‘Americans who want to retire in Ireland should incur a tax liability’

I was born and raised in Ireland and moved to Australia in my 20s. As the granddaughter of an American citizen, I did contemplate applying for US citizenship and going to the States, but once you have citizenship, you incur a tax liability even if you never live there. All Americans who want Irish citizenship to retire in Ireland should also have to incur some sort of tax liability in order to cater for their use of public services in Ireland.

Siobhan Dennehy, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, New York: ‘This proposal is a small fix to a uniquely bigger problem’

We are following the details with interest, and see this as a creative way to allow unused visas to be allocated to Ireland. We like the fact that it is a two-year renewable visa, but note that the academic educational requirement will not suit all those seeking to come to the US from Ireland, and it will take some additional resources for centers like ours to assist those potentially qualified to find employment.

This proposal is a small fix to a uniquely bigger problem, yet, we are cautiously hopeful that it might act as a stepping stone to rectifying the fact that Ireland historically used to have a much larger allocation of dedicated green cards. If it passes, this scheme will help raise more awareness about the need for comprehensive immigration reform, and a much-needed fix for those undocumented who are here desperately seeking a solution to their lack of status.

Catherine O’Brien: ‘It is a good deal for Irish people looking to relocate’

I do not mind the Americans retiring in Ireland as long as they do not look to draw a pension or other social security benefits from the Irish Government, and have their own health insurance. We do not want them burdening the Irish State. It is a good deal for Irish people looking to relocate.

Janice Flynn, London: ‘There will still be hoops to go through’

As a US immigration lawyer, I think this will be great for Irish people to more easily work in the US. If the E-3 visa becomes available to the Irish, there will still be strict technical requirements. For example, each person who applies for the visa must have a specialised professional job offer from a US employer, be paid at least the prevailing wage, and the employer must first obtain a certified Labor Condition Application from the US Department of Labor. Irish citizens are generally very well educated, but there will still be hoops to go through. Everything I’ve read indicates that this Bill will have a bi-partisan report. That’s at least one thing to be positive about these days in US immigration law!

Karin Ohlson, Vermont: ‘It would give me hope’

I am all for making it easier for Irish workers to live and work in the US. I am of Irish heritage and lived there for several years in the early 90s. I have longed to return ever since, and be able to live there legally and retire there, but the laws now are too prohibitive. It would give me hope if they were relaxed.

Barbara Canella, Montreal: ‘Housing is already at a crisis level’

Cutting the income requirement for Americans wanting to retire in Ireland is not a good idea. The cost of living if you do not own your own property in Ireland is high, and therefore the income threshold (currently €50,000) is reasonable. If you lower these standards, Ireland will lose in the long run. Americans will do their shopping on visits to the US (most goods are cheaper there) so they will only buy essential perishable food items in Ireland. Housing is already at a crisis level for a young immigrant workforce coming into Ireland. Until you can handle this situation, you should not put more pressure on the Irish economy.

Eithne Davis, Colorado: ‘Why should Irish immigrants be treated better than others?’

Why should Irish immigrants be treated better than immigrants coming from poor and dangerous countries? Ireland is a wealthy, democratic and free country, where people have opportunities. The reason they and Australians are likely to be given preference is because they are white. It is pure racism.

Siobhan Lydon, Co Cork: ‘I got a Morrison visa in 1992’

I’m an Irish and an American citizen. I got a Morrison visa in 1992. I’m all in favour of this new proposal, except for the concern that Americans will move to Ireland in their twilight years for healthcare purposes. The cost of caring for these people has to be assessed.