Republicans scrutinise US visa provisions for Irish

Draft Bill published last month includes a three-year E3 work permit that would be available to 10,500 Irish each year

Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the eight senators responsible for adding visa measures for Ireland, Canada and Poland into the proposed US immigration legislation, has defended them. “Each of these provisions makes individual sense on the merits,” his spokesman said. Photograph: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Special visa arrangements for Ireland and other countries included in proposed US immigration legislation are coming under closer scrutiny from Republicans who are resisting the changes to US laws.

A draft Bill published last month that would overhaul US immigration laws, the first in more than a quarter of a century, included a new three-year work permit known as the “E3” working visa that would allow 10,500 Irish citizens with secondary-level education to find work in the US every year.

This type of visa was previously only available to Australians but has been included in the proposed legislation after heavy lobbying by the Government during the visits of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore to Washington for St Patrick's Day.

Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore said they had raised the issue of E3 visas in meetings with President Barack Obama and secretary of state John Kerry and the plight of the estimated 50,000 illegal Irish immigrants in the US as the Obama administration plans to change immigration legislation.


Other measures included in the immigration Bill drafted by the so-called bipartisan Gang of Eight Democrat and Republican senators are benefits for South Korea and Poland.

Small print
The measures for specific countries included in small print in the 867-page immigration Bill have received little scrutiny since publication last month. The special deals were highlighted prominently yesterday in a front-page article in the New York Times .

The inclusion of the E3 visas in the Gang of Eight's Bill was reported by The Irish Times when the Bill was published last month.

Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, and his staff have begun to raise questions about the deals for specific countries in the legislation.

“I plan to ask many questions throughout this process,” he said during a Senate judiciary committee last week, as the proposed Bill is being debated on Capitol Hill.

Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York and one of the eight senators responsible for adding measures for Ireland, Canada and Poland into the legislation, has defended them. "Each of these provisions makes individual sense on the merits," his spokesman told the New York Times . "They each solve inequities in the existing immigration law."

Documents obtained by the US newspaper showed Bruce Morrison, the former Democratic congressman from Connecticut, was paid $40,000 (€30,000) by the New York-based Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform to make representations to politicians in advance of the publication of the immigration Bill. Mr Morrison was responsible for a 1990 provision in immigration legislation under which about 48,000 Irish citizens obtained visas to live and work in the US.

Irish muscle
He told The Irish Times last month the Irish had a strong political hand when it came to securing the new E3 visas for Irish citizens. "The Irish are a potent political force in America – this is not by accident. The Irish have always invested in politics in America," he said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times