Republican senators Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Mark Kirk of Illinois have today introduced the Irish Immigration Reform and Encouragement (IRE) Act of 2011, which will potentially offer 10,500 Irish citizens employment visas, that can be continually renewed.

It follows a similar bill from Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat. The two bills differ on whether the Irish undocumented are allowed to apply. Schumer’s bill allows it with a waiver in place while Brown and Kirk’s bill excludes such a provision.

Former Congressman Bruce Morrison, who represents the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform on Capital Hill, welcomed the Republican initiative, ”It is an important step in getting Republicans involved,” said the author of the Morrison visa program.

Experts have pointed out that waivers can also be achieved administratively and not necessarily through legislation
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“Legal immigration is the foundation of America, and we must continue to find ways to improve our visa and green card programs, especially when it comes to the treatment of our strongest allies and closest friends,” said Senator Brown.

“This legislation rectifies the decades-long plight by including the Irish in a special visa program that encourages their skilled workers to come to our shores,” he added.

“The Republic of Ireland continues to be an important strategic ally and friend to the United States,” the Bill states.

If passed, the bill will add the Republic of Ireland to the existing E3 visa program, which is currently offered to Australian citizens. The visa requires applicants to have secured a job in a specialty occupation and to have the necessary credentials for the job.

10,500 visas will be made available for Irish citizens annually, if the legislation makes it through Congress.

“The United States and Ireland have a close bond, and our people remain tightly knit through a long history of Irish immigration. Sadly, inefficiencies in our immigration program have resulted in increasingly poor prospects for Irish immigrants,” noted Senator Brown.

The news comes three days after New York Senator Charles Schumer introduced a similar immigration bill to the Senate.