A student from the Washington Ireland Program reflects beside the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DCJohn McShane

Just recently I spoke to the Washington Irish Program class of 2011. The program brings the best of young Irish students, Catholic and Protestant, north and south, together in Washington where they intern with politicians, media and community groups.

They number about 25 in all, and it would be hard to find a better measurement of how talented young people in Ireland today are.  Not too long ago one of the students was Leo Varadkar, now minister for transport and tourism in Ireland, and at just 32 an almost certain future Irish leader.

That is the caliber of the young people on the program, and one can only imagine how well they did interning for the powerful in D.C.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton among others is a friend of the program, and has stated that WIP alumni represent “a new generation of Irish leaders.”

The application process for admittance to the internship program is rigorous, with hundreds applying from all over Ireland and Irish students at U.K. universities.

I was certainly impressed but also saddened when talking to the students after my remarks.
Many would love to have extended their stays in America given the nature of things back home, but it seemed a very long shot.

Due to the ridiculous family reunification system we have here that passes for immigration law, such young people will have to be very lucky to come to America and live and work here for any extended period.

Yet they would do this country proud and would offer so much. Without doubt most in the class would have jumped at the opportunity to legally stay here, but the gates of America seem firmly shut.

Meanwhile, countries like Australia and Canada, with education and points-based systems, are lapping up tens of thousands of Irish just like them every year.

Just recently the minister for employment in Western Australia flew to Dublin to hire literally tens of thousands of workers if he could.

“I’d bring them back on the plane with me if I was able,” he said, so impressed was he with the talent he encountered.

Leave aside the issue of what Ireland loses by such talented young people leaving.
America is losing too by dint of the fact that such bright and educated people can no longer come here.

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Consider what America, traditional home for millions of Irish, is passing up by its rigid and discriminatory immigration law.

The current law was fashioned by Senator Edward Kennedy of all people in 1965 to rightfully correct the imbalances that saw Europe with the lion’s share of immigrants, and other countries around the world locked out.

It was the era of “we are the world” and civil rights marches, and its influence is seen in the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act.

But as Kennedy himself admitted in later years, the over-correction meant that Europeans could no longer emigrate here legally, including the Irish of course.

My talk to the students coincided with an article I read about a recent naturalization ceremony over the July 4 weekend held in New York.

There was hardy an Irish name among the thousand or so who were sworn in. Sadly we no longer have access to the golden door and are reduced to temporary visas or staying on as illegals.
Meanwhile, like most things in Congress these days, there is gridlock on the issue of immigration reform.

No one is happy with the present system and its almost total emphasis on family reunification and very little on educational achievements and ability.

Countries like Australia and Canada, which match immigrants to skill needs, are leaping ahead.  The U.S., it seems, is powerless to do anything about it any more.

Under current statistics about half of the class of 2011 that I met will end up working abroad, but we will be lucky over here if one or two arrive on our shores.

And America will be the biggest loser.