Next week is shaping up as a major one for the prospects for immigration reform and the E3 visas for Irish citizens.
The E3s would allow 10,500 Irish citizens a year to come to America on renewable two year work visas. Australia already has such a deal, while 20 other countries also have reciprocal visa programs with the US but not Ireland.
The key figure on the Republican side, Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, is said to have been buoyed by the massively positive reception he got from a large Irish Boston audience when he met with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny recently when the Irish leader was in Boston.
Brown is in an intense battle with the Democrats to hold on to his seat and the Irish American vote is a critical constituency.
At a reception for the prime minister, Irish community leaders made clear to Brown their appreciation of his work on behalf of the new visa program. Brown’s bill is currently before the senate awaiting action.
A similar bill by Senator Charles Schumer of New York on the Democratic side has gained the support of 53 senators.
This week work to bring together the two bills is expected to gather pace. The hope is that a bill can be agreed in both House and Senate by the St. Patrick’s season, when President Barack Obama will host a White House reception for Enda Kenny.
Supporters believe there is a real chance that the legislation can pass through the senate on a unanimous consent basis. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is said to have made clear to Irish officials that he does not intend to hold it up if he has the votes.
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the republican who has held up the bill and a companion bill for hi-tech skill visas is said to be in negotiations with Senator Brown about a compromise.
Meanwhile, Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform President Ciaran Staunton was in San Antonio, Texas where he addressed the Irish American community there.
He stressed the importance of reaching out to Texas senator John Cornyn and San Antonio US representative Lamar Smith who is a key figure on immigration in the US House.