Hopes for extra US visas for Irish people hit by setback

Australia raises concerns over changes to E3 scheme, meaning Congress vote now deferred

Hopes of a new US visa scheme for Irish citizens have received a setback as the Republican leadership in Congress decided not to schedule a vote on the issue this week.

It is understood that Australia raised objections about the draft Bill.

The Government's special envoy to the US, John Deasy, has been leading negotiations on extending the E3 visa scheme, which is currently only available to Australian citizens, to Ireland.

With Australia taking-up only about a half of the 10,500 visas allocated under the scheme, this could equate to 5,000 visas for Irish citizens annually.


It is understood that Australia has raised questions about the current draft proposal. Unlike previous iterations of the proposed legislation, under the current draft that has been brought to Congress, Ireland would compete with Australia for the 10,500 visas, rather than simply take up the unused quota.

However, the Bill is now being amended by the Department of Homeland Security to address these concerns. A spokeswoman for the Australian embassy in Washington confirmed that the embassy was in discussions with the Trump administration and Congress on the matter.

While no vote is expected to take place in the House of Representatives before Thanksgiving, one may be scheduled for later this month. The Bill must also secure unanimous support in the Senate.

Ireland is hoping to secure congressional support before the current congress term expires, a two-month period known as the “lame-duck” session.

‘Crystal clear’

Mr Deasy said he was aware of Australia’s concerns.

“Australia understandably wants clarity about the allocations within the E3. The Bill is being redrafted to make it absolutely crystal clear that their visa uptake will never be impacted. We are only discussing the remainder of the visas not used by Australia. Hopefully this can be resolved very quickly.”

However, the Irish embassy in Washington sounded a note of caution.

“The Government supports the Irish E3 Bill that has just been tabled in Congress as were it to pass, it would provide another very welcome pathway for Irish people to gain experience in the US,” a spokeswoman said.

“However, we do not underestimate the significant difficulties involved in securing the passage of this Bill; it needs a two thirds majority in the House and sixty votes in the Senate.”

The E3 is a two-year renewable visa which allows Australian citizens and their spouses to live and work in the US. Australia negotiated the visa programme in 2005 as part of the US-Australia trade agreement.


Applicants must have a job in the United States to quality and have certain academic or other qualifying credentials. But the E3 is significantly easier and less costly to obtain that the tradition H1B visa.

This is not the first time Ireland has sought inclusion in the E3 scheme – a similar proposal was put forward in 2015 but ultimately failed to get adequate congressional support.

A key element of the proposal this time is that Ireland would ease the requirements for Americans who want to retire to Ireland, including granting American citizens the right to work for up to twenty hours a week.

In addition, the minimum annual income levels currently required to retire to Ireland will be lowered.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent