US senators to propose allowing Irish people to take up surplus visas

Up to 5,000 people a year could benefit from E3 visa programme mainly aimed at graduates

New moves are expected to get under way this week in the US Congress to extend an existing visa programme to facilitate potentially thousands of Irish people to live and work in the United States.

Two US senators are understood to be planning to bring forward proposals which would allow Ireland to benefit from surplus visas not taken up under a current agreement between the United States and Australia. Up to 5,000 people a year could benefit under such a scheme, which is aimed at graduates.

Former Irish senator Billy Lawless said on Monday that he had received confirmation from the office of US Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois that he intended to bring forward legislation to allow Ireland to benefit from what is known as the E3 visa programme.

He said the proposed legislation would be introduced on a bipartisan basis involving Senator Durbin, who is a Democrat, and Senator Pat Toomey, who is a Republican from Pennsylvania.


Mr Durbin is the chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Committee and majority whip. His office has been approached by The Irish Times for comment.

Former Fine Gael TD John Deasy, head of government affairs with the Ancient Order of Hibernians, said on Monday: “We believe there will be another attempt to pass an immigration package this year . The re-introduction of the E3 bill by Senator Durbin is the necessary first step in that process. “

“It is very significant that the most senior legislator in the Senate when it comes to immigration is doing this. We hope the Taoiseach can make a similar case to US president Joe Biden when he meets him on Thursday.”

Academic criteria

The E3 visa is primarily aimed at third-level graduates. However, Mr Deasy said individuals could also qualify for the E3 visa programme based on their professional experience. He said it was not exclusively based on academic criteria.

Mr Deasy said the E3 was “an incredibly flexible” visa that could be renewed indefinitely.

He said another benefit was that the partner of the E3 visa could also work.

Mr Deasy said no significant immigration legislation had passed through Congress for many years. He added that Ireland needed to stay the course and be part of any new legislative move on immigration.

Plans to allow Ireland to benefit from surplus visas under the overall E programme, which was originally agreed between the United States and Australia as part of a trade deal in 2005,were first mooted a decade ago.

Proposals in this regard passed in the House of Representatives the US Congress on two occasions previously. However, the proposal failed to pass in the US senate where one senator vetoed the initiative.

Under the trade deal with the United States, Australia was offered an annual allocation of about 10,500 visas.

Under the proposals put forward previously, Irish citizens could apply for the unused portion of this annual visa allocation.

Under the proposal, American citizens would be given reciprocal rights to reside in Ireland.

Last month, the former Fine Gael minister Charlie Flanagan urged that a previously proposed Ireland-USA Diaspora Retiring to Ireland Programme in 2018 be re-booted.

The 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 States. They could also qualify for full citizenship after five years.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent