A renewed push to secure access to the E3 visa scheme for Irish citizens will be undertaken this week, the government's special envoy to the United States, John Deasy has said.
Mr Deasy, who is due to travel to Washington on Monday, will meet with president Donald Trump along with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the oval office on Thursday.
“We needed to pause the initiative for a couple of months, but the fact that it progressed so much last year means that we’ve no choice but to continue to pursue it,” he said. “We expect the issue to feature during our meeting with the president.”
Mr Deasy and the embassy of Ireland in Washington led efforts last year to secure access for Irish citizens to the E3 visa scheme, a two-year renewable scheme currently only available to Australians. But the Bill did not garner sufficient support in the US senate.
Australia was granted 10,500 visas a year as part of a trade deal it negotiated with the US in 2005. It was broadly seen as a thank you for Australia's alliance with the US in the Iraq war.
But with Australians only taking up about half the country’s annual allocation, Ireland lobbied for inclusion in the scheme, arguing that Irish citizens should be permitted to apply for any visas not used by Australia.
The Bill expanding the scheme to citizens of Ireland passed the House of Representatives in a vote last November. But it failed to garner sufficient support in the Senate after senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas opposed it.
Asked if he would meet with Mr Cotton while in Washington, Mr Deasy said that he would be engaging with several individual senators this week. “It’s my job to convince them that what we’re proposing is fundamentally good for Americans.”
He said that the proposal had significant support on both sides of the political aisle in Washington, and from the Trump administration. “Several important steps took place last year. The idea that you couldn’t achieve a bilateral immigration deal with the US has been proven incorrect. The Hispanic caucus has been very supportive throughout. These two points are critical.”
Immigration reform and Brexit are likely to top the agenda at this week’s meeting between the Taoiseach and the US president amid concern among the Irish-American caucus about the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland.
A resolution opposing the return of a hard border has been brought to the House of Representatives by congressman Brendan Boyle.
The chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives, Richard Neal of Massachusetts has also warned that there should be no return to a hard border in Ireland. That committee will have a say in any future trade deal between the US and Britain.
The Taoiseach is also expected to raise the issue of the Occupied Territories Bill, which has garnered negative coverage in Washington, during his meetings with political figures. In a letter sent to the Taoiseach dated January 30th, ten members of Congress, including Republican Peter King who is co-chairman of the Friends of Ireland caucus, warned that US investment in Ireland could be under threat if the Bill is passed.
"Many of the leading US companies in Ireland also have considerable presences in the US' close ally, Israel. These companies include Apple, whose Irish operations reportedly make it Ireland's largest company and largest taxpayer," the letter said.
Ireland’s perceived pro-Palestinian stance has long been a source of concern for senior US politicians on both the Democratic and Republican side. It is understood that the issue was raised by several members of Congress during Tánaiste Simon Coveney’s visit to Washington last month.