Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts is the man the Irish community in the US is banking on to deliver the E3 visa scheme which would allow up to 10,000 working visas a year for Irish emigrants.
The E3 bill has been attached to a hi-tech immigrant bill, which would allow far more green cards for Indian and Chinese citizens to come to America.
Irish lobbyist are still confident that a bill can pass before St.Patrick’s Day making it a major victory for them on the issue of most importance to their community.
When that bill easily passed the house, New York senator Charles Schumer added the E3 Irish visas as an amendment in the Senate.
The E3 allows qualified workers and their spouses to come and work in America if they receive a job offer. The E3 recipient can extend the visa every two years. It is a de facto green card but it not counted as such.
Australia, Chile and Singapore all have versions of such a country specific visa and Ireland has long sought its own bill too.
The Irish community was outraged that the hi-tech bill, which also helps Hispanics, had no Irish component, as there was a clear pact that comprehensive immigration reform was the objective for all but the new bill broke that agreement.
Senator Schumer, the Number 2 Democrat in the senate and acutely attuned to the Irish community in New York, was quick to respond to the Irish anger by adding his E3 bill.
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Senator Brown then added his own bill, which is now similar to the Schumer bill after Schumner withdrew a clause that potentially could have allowed undocumented to apply which was not in the Brown bill.
Fifty-three senators, all Democrats have agreed to back Schumer’s bill while at least six Republicans led by Brown are said to be in favor of the legislation.
Sixty votes are needed to defeat any filibuster but an extra hitch has been the opposition of Iowa senator Charles Grassley who has put a hold on the bill in the senate and will not allow it onto the floor at this time.
That is where Brown comes in. the Massachusetts senator has been very responsive to the Irish community in Boston led by Irish Lobby for Immigration local president Hugh Meehan and to the Irish government.
When the Schumer bill was created a flood of Irish began lobbying the Massachusetts republican to back the bill.
Instead Brown wrote his own bill but it is now similar in almost every respect to the Schumer bill.
Brown faces a very tough re-election against Elizabeth Warren who has raised record amounts as she seeks to displace Brown.
Brown will need all the Irish American support he can get which is where passage of the E3 bill becomes important.
Irish lobbyists believe that Brown can make a compelling case to both Senator Grassley and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell that passage of the E3 visa bill is important for his re-election race.
Grassley is seeking a change in the H1B visa scheme, which allows companies to recruit workers overseas, which is not part of the current bill. However, McConnell has made it clear, according to sources, that he has no problem with the bill if Grassley allows it to go to the floor.
Both the Irish government and the ILIR believe that Brown is the key to the bill and that he can convince Grassley that he needs it in order to keep the Massachusetts senate seat he won so unexpectedly after Ted Kennedy died.
The hi-tech lobby is also strongly behind the bill and putting pressure on Republicans to pass it.
Grassley, from Iowa however, has very little of a hi-tech constituency. Though he visited Ireland last year and was wined and dined by the Irish government he has given little indication that the Irish lobby can influence him either.
Senator Patrick Leahy, head of the Judiciary Committee in the senate who is Grassley’s Democratic counterpart is also a key figure who has an important relationship with Grassley, the ranking Republican member
This week Irish Foreign Minster Eamon Gilmore will be in Washington and is expected to meet with Grassley and Brown and McConnell. That meeting could be critical to the future of the bill.
But it is Brown that everyone will be watching these next two weeks and the run-in to St.Patrick’s Day . He has been responsive so far to the ILIR in his state and to the Irish government and it remains to be seen if he will now make the extra push to bring Grassley on side.
ILRI lobbyist and former Congressman Bruce Morrison says Brown is a key. “We need Scott Brown to deliver on this, “ he says. “It is a win-win for him if he does.”