Support from senior figures in the Trump administration has been instrumental in progressing efforts to secure a landmark visa deal between Ireland and the US, the Government's special envoy to the US has said.
John Deasy, the Waterford TD appointed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to spearhead efforts at visa reform, said senior figures in President Donald Trump's cabinet helped to draft a Bill that could be voted on in the House of Representatives as soon as next week.
Mr Deasy cautioned that the Bill still had to be passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate, where it will need unanimous backing. He stressed, however, that it had bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans.
“We are not there yet and I think we need to focus on just getting this done,” he told The Irish Times. “There are a million ways on Capitol Hill how a whole Bill can be stopped.”
Under the proposed legislation Irish citizens would become eligible for the E3 visa – a visa currently open only to Australian citizens. About 10,500 E3 visas are available each year, but only about half are taken up. In the mooted move, Irish citizens would be eligible to apply for any visas not used in the allocation.
The Bill containing the proposal is being sponsored by Republican Jim Sensenbrenner and Democrat Richard Neal, and Mr Deasy said Mick Mulvaney and John Kelly, respectively Mr Trump's director of office of management and budget, and his chief of staff, have been strong supporters of the legislation.
As a result, Mr Deasy said the latest initiative has made immigration reform for Ireland “closer than its ever been”.
“Frankly, because it has been drafted by the current administration, Homeland Security, with two members of congress on either side. That is something that hasn’t occurred previously.”
Niall O’Dowd, a long-time campaigner for immigration reform, welcomed the latest developments but also struck a note of caution. Mr O’Dowd also said he will be watching to see if the Bill addressed the issue of the undocumented Irish in the US.
“It is a positive development, it is an exciting development, but one that still has a way to go. I do believe that the Taoiseach and President Trump have spoken about this issue and it has got traction within the Trump administration.”
When asked about how the undocumented will be catered for, Mr Deasy said the “priority right now is to ensure that this legislation passes”.
“That is the most important part of this process and I hope people would just bear with me throughout the entire process.”
He said the success of the latest plan rested on “making a proposal that makes sense to the Americans”. In return for access to the E3 programme, Ireland would make it easier for US citizens to retire here by lowering income thresholds for those who wish to retire here, as well as allowing such applicants work 20 hours a week.
“From our end if we get the the E3 visas, at the same time create the flows from the American side, it’s a win-win and it really benefits both countries,” Mr Deasy – who has in the past worked as a legislative aide and a lobbyist on Capitol Hill – said.
Getting a new Bill to this point, he said, was due to upping the “political ante” with individual members of congress.
“The only way we were going to achieve a deal in Washington was by increased political activity at member level.
“No disrespect to our Department of Foreign Affairs but I think that was necessary and I think that has proven to actually have an effect over the last year, year and a half.”