A former Fine Gael minister who devised a Government programme to allow Irish-Americans over the age of 55 to retire to, or work in, Ireland will try to reboot it in the Dáil this week.
Charlie Flanagan was minister for foreign affairs when the then Fine Gael government announced the Ireland-USA Diaspora Retiring to Ireland Programme in 2018.
The bespoke programme would give American citizens between the ages of 55 and 75, who could show a connection with Ireland, the right to live and work in the State. They could also qualify for full citizenship after five years.
The I Government intended that the accelerated programme would be a quid pro quo for the E3 Visa Bill in Congress, which, if passed, would allow access to thousands of US visas each year to Irish citizens. However, progress on the E3 Visa Bill has stalled on Capitol Hill. Consequently, work on progressing the programme for Irish-Americans also stopped.
With little prospect of the E3 Visa Bill progressing through Congress in the short term, Mr Flanagan, who is chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, wants the Coalition to adopt the programme unilaterally. He intends to raise the matter on the floor of the Dáil this week.
“Immigration reform has not been as productive as the Irish in America would have liked.
“Having regard to the close connection, and that special relationship between Ireland and the US, the Government should advance it quickly. I hope the Taoiseach will grasp this opportunity in conjunction with Government colleagues.”
The programme is heavily backed by the influential Irish-American lobby group, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), which has called on Taoiseach Micheál Martin to adopt it as policy ahead of his visit to the White House in March.
Its head of government affairs, former Waterford TD John Deasy, has said adopting the policy would give impetus to the drive to achieve status for undocumented Irish people in the US.
“Regardless of whether the E3 Visa Bill passes, this measure needs to be implemented. When the Taoiseach travels to the White House, it will allow the Irish Government to kickstart talks on immigration which have been stalled in Congress,” he said.
Danny O’Connell, president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, said: “We hope the Taoiseach will review and implement this badly needed policy measure before his visit to White House in March. We want to reopen our dialogue on immigration with the US legislature and this would give us the opportunity to do so.”
The scheme lowers the income requirements for Irish-Americans of retirement age who wish to live in Ireland from €50,000 to €40,000 a year and also lower the net asset threshold from €200,000 to €100,000. In addition it will allow those on the programme to work for a total of 20 hours a week, and also do voluntary work or study. The scheme will allow the person’s spouse or partner to have the same rights.
The US person must show a demonstrable connection to Ireland either through ancestry, through involvement with Irish community activities, or by means of frequent travel and visits to the island.
Some 3 per cent of Irish-Americans own property in Ireland, although surveys conducted among the community have shown that as many as a third would be interested in residing in Ireland or buying property here, if such a programme was introduced.