Wednesday, 13 July 2011
Question 16: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the progress made to date on resolving the issue of undocumented Irish in the USA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19971/11]
Addressing the position of the undocumented Irish and reforming our migration arrangements with the United States are important priorities for the Government in its relationship with the US Administration and Congress. The inclusion of Ireland in an amended reciprocal E3 visa scheme, which would allow Irish people with a certain level of education to work in the US on a two-year renewable visa, is the most effective way of creating new opportunities for Irish citizens in the USA. However, this scheme alone would not provide a solution to the undocumented Irish issue. The most realistic long-term solution for our undocumented citizens remains comprehensive immigration reform.
The Taoiseach and I discussed the question of the undocumented with President Obama when we met with him on 23 May in Dublin. Responding to our concerns, the President expressed his interest in achieving progress on immigration issues, a view he had earlier outlined in a major address on the issue on 10 May. Most recently, I raised these issues with Senator Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate judiciary committee when I met him in Dublin on 3 June.
The introduction of a new Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill in the Senate on 22 June last was a welcome development. This Bill, which has been brought by senior Democrats, including Senators Harry Reid, Charles Schumer and Robert Menendez, is similar to that introduced in the previous Congress and, once again, includes provision for a new E3 visa for Ireland. While Senator Menendez has indicated that in circulating the Bill he aimed to provide a framework around which a debate and negotiations can happen, the continued inclusion of the E3 for Ireland in the Bill represents an important achievement for the Government and the Irish community.
However, while I am encouraged by my discussions and by developments in Congress I remain aware of the enormous political challenges that face efforts to pass immigration-related legislation at the current time. All avenues will be explored by the Government in the search for a solution to this difficult issue.
I thank the Minister for his reply. He has been passionate about this issue for a while. Many families on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean are sad because of the restriction and the inability to travel. I wonder whether the Minister would consider seeking an informal amnesty with the US authorities. We could perhaps have an amnesty for undocumented Irish people living in the United States for five years or more. Many of them have children and they participate in family and community life. If an amnesty could be secured for such people they would be able to participate in a fuller way by paying their taxes and making a wider contribution to the US economy. Is that something the Tánaiste would consider?
The suggestion has been raised with us by the group, Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, ILIR. The idea is that an administrative waiver would be applied to undocumented people who are in the United States and who otherwise would qualify for a visa. However, they would have to return home in order to make an application. The issue is being pursued by us. The ambassador in Washington has been and is pursuing the issue. We are in contact with him in that regard.