Brendan Smith, Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan, again raised the issue of undocumented Irish people in the US during a recent debate in Dáil Éireann (Parliament).
“I believe, as I have mentioned in this House on many occasions, that in all engagements with all politicians in the United States, from the President down to people from state legislatures and city halls, we must always be very mindful of the position of the undocumented Irish," TD Smith said to Taoiseach (Irish leader) Leo Varadkar in the Dáil on October 18.
"We must and continue to emphasize in all forums the need to make progress on regularizing the status of the undocumented Irish."
Smith said the best estimate available to Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs is that there are fewer than 10,000 Irish people in such a position.
"The overwhelming majority of those people are working hard, paying their taxes, contributing to society but, unfortunately, they do not have the status they need," Smith said, "They do not have residency status or access to visas."
Smith continued: "I am fully conscious that it will be difficult to have comprehensive immigration reform in the present climate in the United States, but we must continue to endeavor to get a legal pathway to status for those people and for other people who wish to emigrate from our country for whatever reasons to the United States.”
In response, the Taoiseach said: “I think we have a really good model that other states could follow in terms of regularizing undocumented people.
“We have done a few schemes in this State, including one for people who arrived with student visas and subsequently lost their status. I think it is a good example for the US to follow.
“But, unfortunately, I do not think it is going to be possible for it to do so.
"The whole debate around migration in the US has become so polarized. I think it would be very difficult for any President or any Congress to be able to get reform through.
“That is a real shame but hopefully that will change at some point in the future.”
You can watch TD Brendan Smith and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's exchange in the Dail regarding undocumented Irish people in the US here:
The matter of undocumented Irish in the US has been raised in the Dáil several times this year.
In July, Smith asked Micheál Martin, Ireland's Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, if there have been any recent discussions with US authorities in relation to immigration reform, particularly regarding the status of the undocumented Irish.
The Tánaiste said that addressing the "difficult situation" of undocumented Irish in the US and "working to secure legal pathways for Irish people seeking to live and work in the US continues to be a key priority for the Government."
He added that immigration matters are "raised on a regular and ongoing basis with US representatives," and that the Irish government "actively supports the Biden administration’s efforts to achieve comprehensive immigration reform."
On his first day in office, President Biden introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, but the bill later died in committee stages. In May of this year, it was reintroduced in the House by Rep Linda Sánchez, who says the proposed legislation "Provides an earned path to citizenship for people who contribute to their communities, including their spouses and children." The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on the Central Intelligence Agency and the Subcommittee on the National Intelligence Enterprise in June.
Similar to the Taoiseach's recent comments, the Tánaiste said in July that he does not "underestimate the obstacles to achieving this given the political sensitivities of immigration issues in the United States, including in Congress."
The Tánaiste added that he raised the question of "access to visas" with politicians on both sides of the aisle during his visit to Washington, DC in February and that the Government has also raised this issue directly with President Biden in recent months.
Earlier in July, TD Michael Lowry asked the Tánaiste for an update regarding the E3 visa in the US.
The E3 visa, a 2-year American working visa that is currently available to Australians only as part of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), was first introduced in the US in 2005. There has been a push for a number of years to secure Irish access to the visas unclaimed by Australians. The efforts were nearly realized in 2018 until the legislation was narrowly blocked.
The Tánaiste noted that the reintroduction of the E3 visa bill in US Congress last year was "welcome," however the bill lapsed when Congress concluded at the end of 2022.
"The Government strongly advocated for this proposal which, if passed, would bring about new two-way traffic between Ireland and the United States that could impact positively on economic, cultural, and people-to-people ties," the Tánaiste said.
"New immigration flows would also reinvigorate Irish communities across the United States and, overall, add to the vibrancy of our sizeable Irish diaspora in the US.
"While the Government continues to support efforts to get an ‘Irish specific’ category of E3 visa, the challenges to enactment should not be underestimated. Almost every US legislative proposal related to immigration reform in the last decade has stalled in Congress.
"Nonetheless, I will continue to take all opportunities to develop new immigration pathways for Irish people who wish to live and work in the United States."
Meanwhile, the registration for the 2025 Diversity Visa, often known as the 'green card lottery,' ends on November 7, 2023. The annual Diversity Visa program makes available up to 55,000 diversity immigrant visas each year to randomly selected entrants from eligible countries, including Ireland and Northern Ireland.