News of a possible visa deal allowing Irish citizens to live and work in the United States will be welcomed by immigration campaigners on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ireland has long argued that the number of visas allocated to Irish citizens does not reflect the strong historic links between Ireland and the US. More than 35 million Americans claim Irish heritage.
Under a Bill that has been brought to the House of Representatives, Ireland would be allocated the portion of E3 visas not taken up by Australian citizens. Australia is currently the only country with the coveted E3 scheme, and is allocated 10,500 each year.
The E3 is a two-year renewable visa which allows Australian citizens and their spouses to live and work in the United States. 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.
The Government’s special envoy to the US, John Deasy, is confident that the proposal has bipartisan support, though it still needs to be endorsed by both the House and the Senate.
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. One key difference this time, according to officials, is the involvement of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Ireland is also offering a reciprocal arrangement to America which will see the Department of Justice ease the requirements for Americans who want to retire in Ireland.
It is thought that the best chance Ireland has of securing a deal is in the coming weeks during the so-called “lame-duck” session of Congress when the outgoing members of the House and Senate continue to sit before the new members take their seats in January.
One outstanding question is the status of the undocumented Irish already living in the US. While in the first instance the E3 visa scheme is likely to apply to future flows of Irish people, sources have indicated that discussions are also under way about accommodating undocumented Irish citizens who may qualify. Whatever the shape of the new Congress, the next few weeks appears to offer the best chance for Ireland to secure a breakthrough and make real progress on immigration reform.
The news from Washington comes as the Irish Government on Tuesday approved a series of measures to deepen and enhance Irish-US relations, specifically inviting more American politicians to visit Ireland.
While the Taoiseach and Ministers have made 169 visits to the US since 2012, visits by American politicians are rarer, and the Government will seek to invite more US mayors, members of Congress and national politicians to Ireland in the coming years.
Approving a review of US-Ireland relations brought to Cabinet by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, the Government decided that there should be “aggressive engagement” with Irish-American politicians in the new Congress.
The review also calls for more Irish diplomatic staff on the ground in the US, as well as the opening of a new consulate in Los Angeles.