Legislation that would extend E3 visas to Irish citizens was forwarded to the Senate on Thursday under an expedited process, although a vote is not expected until next week at the earliest, according to congressional sources.
In a significant breakthrough the House of Representatives voted to extend the E3 visa scheme to Irish citizens during a debate in Congress on Wednesday evening.
Though the Bill must still get Senate approval, its passage through the lower chamber marks a major breakthrough in Ireland’s efforts to secure new visa access for Irish citizens who want to live and work in the United States.
The Bill was “hotlined” to the Senate on Thursday, which means that it could bypass some Senate procedures and proceed relatively quickly if there is broad consent. Though a vote was technically possible on Thursday night, it was seen as more likely to take place next week or later in the congressional session.
With the current Congress due to finish up in mid-December, a deal must be agreed in the coming weeks. It would then be passed to US president Donald Trump for signing.
Up to 5,000 visas per year could become available under the E3 visa scheme, which is currently open to Australian citizens only.
While the passage of the Bill needed a two-thirds majority in the House, it needs unanimous approval in the Senate. Figures from across the political divide welcomed the House vote.
John Deasy, the Waterford TD who was appointed special envoy to the US Congress last year by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, said the vote was an important move, but he stressed that Senate approval was still needed.
Fianna Fáil's spokesman on foreign affairs, Niall Collins, welcomed the development as "real progress".
“Well done to all involved to date in this initiative, in particular John Deasy. Hopefully the Senate will now pass this without undue delay,” he said.
Billy Lawless, the Senator with responsibility for the diaspora, said he "wholeheartedly" welcomed the development.
“It will reinvigorate Irish-American communities in the USA and will serve to bring our countries, our companies and our people even closer together,” he said.
“In light of Brexit this would be a win-win for both of our great nations, given that Ireland will be the primary English-speaking country remaining in the EU,” he added.
Easier and cheaper
A total of 10,500 E3 visas are made available to Australian nationals each year under a 2005 deal, but only half of these are taken up each year.
Among the key provisions of the E3 visa is that applicants must have a job in the United States to quality. But the E3 is significantly easier and less costly to obtain than the traditional H1B visa. Unlike other visas, the two-year E3 visa can be renewed indefinitely and includes spouses.
As part of the negotiations, Ireland has offered to make it easier for US citizens to retire in Ireland. This includes lowering the income threshold needed and allowing retirees to work for up to 20 hours a week.