An influential member of the House of Representatives will table a bill that would permit Irish citizens to apply for unused Australian E-3 visas, according to Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan.
During an interview with the Irish Voice last week in New York, where Flanagan attended a number of UN and local Irish community events, the minister said that Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin who has served in the House since 1979, will offer the bill that would allow the Irish access to the unused portion of Australia’s E-3 visa program which was created in 2005 and grants 10,500 high-skilled visas exclusively for Australian nationals each year.
Sensenbrenner stressed the importance of building support for the bill to ensure its passage.
“It’s a new development, and it’s important we get support now for the bill,” said Flanagan, who met with Sensenbrenner and a number of other politicians last Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
“The process has commenced, and we will seek support. [Sensenbrenner] himself will also assist in ensuring a measure of support for it.”
The Australia E-3 program is set aside for Australian nationals working in “specialty” occupations that require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. A U.S. job offer is also necessary. The visa is issued for an initial period of two years, and is renewable indefinitely.
For fiscal year 2014, 8,834 Australian E-3s were issued. The Sensenbrenner bill, Flanagan acknowledged, isn’t the long-term answer to creating a new flow of Irish immigration to the U.S., but it’s a potential start.
“I don’t offer this as a panacea, but it’s a welcome development,” Flanagan said.
“We’re looking for cross party support, and it’s significant that it’s tabled by Congressman Sensenbrenner. So the process has commenced and it’s a matter of working through it now.”
Flanagan said the Irish government is “disappointed” that there hasn’t been any progress on U.S. immigration reform. He says the government knows it’s “unlikely” that any legislation will be enacted under the Obama administration, but that keeping reform on the agenda, especially as it pertains to the undocumented Irish, remains a top priority.
“Every minister who visits the U.S. has the issue top of their agenda,” Flanagan said. “We recognize that a special dispensation for the Irish is not going to happen. Nevertheless, we feel that in the context of the matter being addressed overall, the shadow must be lifted from thousands of Irish citizens here.
“This is not,” Flanagan added, “just a St. Patrick’s Day issue. And in spite of a lack of progress, we will endure.”
Flanagan said that as the Irish economy recovers from its economic challenges, the government will be in a greater position to offer more financial support to the diaspora in the U.S.
“I would hope that as we secure our recovery we will be in a position to further intensify our engagement here in terms of many projects, [like] our emigrant support programs, ensuring that we recognize the importance of the Irish community in New York City,” he said.
The chance for emigrants to return to a more prosperous Ireland is also real, Flanagan stressed.
“We now believe the time is right where they may consider coming home and bringing their experience and expertise,” he said.
“Our unemployment numbers are dropping considerably, our public finances are now in order and our economy is expanding and developing. We now have opportunity for people to consider an option of coming home.”
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Congressman Sensenbrenner represents Wyoming. He is a congressman for Wisconsin.