The prospects of passage for an E-3 visa bill allowing up to 10,000 Irish a year to come and work permanently in the U.S. have increased dramatically this week.
On Tuesday New York Senator Charles Schumer hotlined the bill in the Senate, meaning that he is seeking unanimous consent for its passage.
The bill, known informally as the Schumer/Leahy/Durbin bill, is attached to other legislation which would allow more skilled hi-tech workers from China, India and Mexico into the U.S.
In its original form, without the Irish component, the hi-tech bill passed the House 319-14, with Silicon Valley companies in particular playing a major lobbying role.
However, when that bill came to the Senate, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa placed a hold on it. The Irish lobby then became involved, demanding an Irish E-3 bill.
Reacting to that, Schumer introduced the Irish amendment which would allow the E-3 visas.
E-3s are temporary work visas that allow individuals or married couples to come to U.S. with a job offer and work legally for two years at a time. The visa is indefinitely renewable.
Fifty-three U.S. senators, all Democrats, signed up to support it, while it is believed that up to eight Republican senators are now also in favor.
The bill hotlined on Tuesday has removed the automatic waiver for those who are undocumented. But former Congressman Bruce Morrison, who is the chief lobbyist on the Irish side, stated that discretionary waivers could still be achieved even under the current law.
Morrison rated chances for passage of the current bill as “better than 50/50,” but stated chances were “very good” for an overall or revised bill at some point.
Attention now switches to the Republicans in the Senate, where up to eight senators led by Scott Brown of Massachusetts have indicated that they are in favor of the bill, which would give it a filibuster-proof majority.
Attention will be focused on Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader who will be key in getting the bill passed.
Martin Brennan, New York State director for Schumer, has appealed for Irish Americans to lobby local senators to help pass the bill.
“Senator Schumer is very committed to this legislation,” he said. “We truly believe we can get it passed.”
In a statement to Irish Central Senator Schumer said “The time is now to pass this common-sense bill that improves the fairness and efficiency of our immigration system, while also including a mutual visa exchange with America’s long-time ally, Ireland.
“The underlying bill passed the Republican House with overwhelming bi-partisan support – and the Irish E-visa also has support from both parties — so there is no reason not to pass this bill today,”
Schumer is the lead sponsor, along with Senators Leahy and Durbin, of S.1983. “This bill presents the rarest of opportunities to work together to pass a historic bill that will both open up, for the first time in decades, an avenue for legal Irish immigration to America and allow us to attract the kind of innovators who can create job growth in America."
If it does get passed in the Senate then it goes back to the House for approval, but having almost unanimously passed there already, there is no expectation that it will be blocked.
“We have a golden opportunity,” said Ciaran Staunton, president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, which has led the charge.
“The Irish community from coast to coast needs to get behind this bill.”