Two Republican senators made a major effort to strip 10,500 visas for Irish from the 2013 immigration bill at the Senate Judiciary hearings on Tuesday.

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama both sought to remove the E3 provision and claimed that it was gross favoritism towards the Irish.

However, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the architect of the  bill, defended the provisions pointing out that the Irish had lost out heavily after the 1965 Immigration Act. Judiciary Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy pointed out that the provision in the bill was introduced jointly last year by Senator Scott Brown, a Republican.

No other Republican argued against the bill which meant it had an effective overwhelming majority in the committee.

That means that the E3 provision in the bill is now very likely to form part of the final version in the senate. It would take a supermajority of 60 votes to bring it back up on the floor which is highly unlikely.

It is still not clear if the House version of the immigration bill, if there is one, will have an E3 provision. The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform is carrying out a major lobbying effort this week in Washington DC to win support.

Other countries such as South Korea, Canada, and Poland also have special country specific provisions in the bill. Australia was granted 10,000 E3s every year since 2005. The E3 is a non immigrant work visa renewable every two years.

Below is the transcript of the exchange on Ireland.

Sen. Grassley: Then I will ask a question on the part dealing with Ireland. It singles out Ireland to provide particular benefits with regards to the visa application. I’d like to have somebody explain the rationale for changing our immigration system to benefit one particular country and why did the Irish get their own allocation for visas and why are these workers not required to have any of the skills or education beyond high school?

Sen. Schumer: We’ve had provisions for Irish immigration in legislation for 15 or 20 years because of the special relationship between Ireland and America. In fact, one of the persons who pushed this was somebody who was a leader in immigration, Senator Kennedy. And what it does is you have to have 2 years of training or experience or work experience. What we’re trying to here is be fair. Lots of country gets lots of immigrants because the family relationships are close. Many of the people who came from Ireland don’t have parents or children there, they have second cousins and third cousins. We’ve had the Donnelly visa program in 1988, the Morrison visa program of 1992, the Diversity program of 1994, that all recognized these. As you know, because of the request of many, the diversity program is ending and this is a substitute for it.

Sen. Leahy: Is this, if I might, is this similar to what former Senator Scott Brown in the Republican caucus had proposed earlier a couple years ago?

Sen. Schumer: Exactly.

Sen. Leahy: Thank you.

Sen. Sessions: Mr. Chairman, I remember that discussion with Senator Brown and I could find not a principled basis to support that provision and I don’t find one now in principle.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Senator Charles Grassley of IowaPolitico