Cowen calls for new visa deal

U.S. President Barack Obama with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Brian Cowen pledged his support on securing a new visa agreement with the U.S. during his visit with politicians and President Barack Obama this week.

Cowen said he favors a deal which would allow thousands of workers to travel freely between both countries for up to two years.

He referred to the reciprocal deal that the U.S. currently have with Australia where up to 10,000 visas are issued every year.

Cowen was confident that during his trip to the U.S. this week a similar deal could be discussed and eventually agreed for Ireland.

This deal would not include the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish living in the U.S. However, Cowen has pledged his support on finding  “a long term” solution on the issue of the undocumented.

Last year, the U.S. agreed that 50,000 Irish citizens could apply for year long student working visas. In return, 5,000 U.S. citizens are permitted to live and work in Ireland.

Speaking at the launch of IrishCentral.com and Irish America’s Top 100 on Sunday night at the American Irish Historical Society, Cowen said, “My government is committed to re-energizing the J-1 visa program, to agreeing a new reciprocal two-year working visa deal and to finding a long-term solution for the undocumented in this country.”

He added that he himself had once spent a summer working in New York, where he played Gaelic football in the Bronx.

During an interview with RTE on Monday, Cowen said, “We would like to get the model that the Australians obtained in different times, where people from both countries could come for a more prolonged period, work and enjoy each other’s culture and understanding of how life is lived.”  

Cowen, who first called for a review of the Irish-American relationship during his first visit to the U.S. seven months ago, reiterated the importance of such an examination while in New York on Monday. 

“There is a need for a review of what the relationship with the United States is and should be and how present and future needs could be met in a way that brought mutual benefit both to Ireland and to America,” he said.

Cowen also suggested establishing a Ireland-U.S. strategic policy group that would be chaired by the Irish minister for foreign affairs and a leader in Irish American circles which would be backed by the taoiseach. 

“There is a need to establish in the public mind in the United States, in the way that some other diasporas have done successfully, that this connection between Ireland and America is as positive for America as it is for ourselves,” he said. 

Cowen, who announced the opening of a new Irish consulate on Sunday in Atlanta, continued, “We need to update our whole representational capacity in the United States. We are excellently served there in many respects but we can extend our consulates to places like Atlanta in Georgia and Houston in Texas.” 

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