Tuesday, 20 November 2018
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Undocumented Irish in the USA
82. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the position regarding the efforts being made on the needs of the undocumented Irish in the United States of America; the extent to which ongoing negotiations continue to take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48127/18]
I ask the Tánaiste to outline the efforts the Government is making on the issue of the undocumented Irish in the United States, the extent to which negotiations continue to take place, and specifically the role Deputy Deasy is playing as the Government special envoy to Congress on the undocumented Irish citizens.
The Government continues to pursue two key objectives with regard to Irish immigration to the United States: first, increased pathways for legal migration by Irish citizens to the US; and second, seeking some form of relief for undocumented Irish citizens living in the US. The Taoiseach and I continue to prioritise this issue in all our engagements with the US administration and Congress. I discussed the Ireland-EU-US relationship with my Government colleagues earlier this month and we reiterated the priority that the Government attaches to Irish immigration issues in the US. The Government’s special envoy to the US Congress on the undocumented, Deputy Deasy, has been active on the issue, and our embassy in Washington, D.C. continues to engage on an ongoing basis with the administration and with a wide range of contacts on Capitol Hill.
I welcome the recent tabling of a bill in the US Congress that, if passed, would allow Ireland to avail of E3 visas and provide another very welcome pathway for Irish people to gain experience in the US. I do not underestimate the significant difficulties involved in securing the passage of this bill, requiring as it does a two thirds majority in the House and 60 votes in the Senate.
The Government, through the work of the embassy and of Deputy Deasy, will continue to engage proactively with the US administration and elected representatives, both Democratic and Republican, on Irish immigration issues and specifically on this bill.
The Government's efforts to assist the undocumented Irish in the US will also continue, as they have under previous administrations. This remains a very challenging issue, however, as immigration reform has been a sensitive and divisive issue within the US political system for decades.
On the welfare of the undocumented Irish, the embassy, as well as our six consulates across the United States, work closely with Irish immigration centres which support the needs of Irish citizens in the United States, including those who are undocumented. These centres all receive annual funding from the Government’s emigrant support programme to support their important work.
I acknowledge the role the Taoiseach played in appointing Deputy Deasy as a special envoy.
It was a very good thing to do. Being politicians, most of us in this House know the importance of somebody from another country lobbying and maintaining contact with us. From a practical point of view, the reason I have raised the issue is that under the current administration in the United States there is heightened awareness of the immigration issue and people are concerned. The families of Irish people who have been living there for a long time and happen to be undocumented are concerned about their welfare. We have all seen cases where they are not able to return to Ireland for family occasions and so forth. I listened to the Minister's reply in detail, but I would like him to elaborate on it. He mentioned that he was dealing with two key issues. One of the issues of real concern is relief for the undocumented, that is, those who are living there. I know that the Minister is not the US Administration and cannot answer for it. I can only hold him to account by seeking assurances that both he and the Government are doing everything possible for the undocumented and trying to secure relief for them.
All I can say is we want to try to do as much as possible to provide an avenue by which Irish people who want to travel to the United States can do so legally. It is really important that we continue a tradition that has been followed for many decades where there is a continuing flow of talented, bright, motivated young Irish people to the United States to be part of decision-making, politics and all of the other things in which Irish people are involved. That is in our interests and those of the many people who want to continue to do this by choice, rather than necessity. We also need to help the thousands of undocumented in the United States who are now living in a far more coarse political environment when it comes to immigration and feel a lot more vulnerable than in the past. However, we also have to be realistic about what is achievable. We have gone down the E-3 visa route to find a way of introducing legislation that could actually get a result for us in the short term. The United States has an arrangement with Australia whereby E-3 visas are provided for Australians who want to travel to the United States. Each year a quota is provided. In many cases, that quota is not used in full. Therefore, we are hoping to use visas that would otherwise not be used. In fact, it can be shown that they have not been used and it will be the following year when they could potentially be available for use by Irish people. I have been on Capitol Hill with Deputy Deasy. We have met people like Representative Paul Ryan, Representative Nancy Pelosi, Representative Richard Neal and many others from both parties to try to get this done in a sensible way.
I thank the Tánaiste for his response, a significant element of which concerned people who want to travel in the future, new visas and so forth. I want to reflect on a comment he made previously. About six months ago he said, "The Government has been exploring a number of different options, including the possibility of a reciprocal agreement covering the undocumented Irish in the US, on the one hand, and US citizens looking to move to Ireland, on the other." Has the Government made any progress in dealing with that element, in particular? I am clear on what the Minister is saying about people who are looking for new opportunities, but the focus of my question is on those who are in the United States who are classed as undocumented and effectively in limbo. Has any progress being made on the reciprocal arrangement since the Minister made that comment?
The legislation being proposed includes a reciprocal arrangement by which US citizens who want to come to or retire in Ireland, as many would like to do, would be facilitated in so doing in a more streamlined way. It is currently possible to do so, but we could improve the conditions under which it happens. We continue to explore ways by which we could both help the undocumented and ensure a visa system was available. There is nothing available, except for students in the summer. Let us take this one step at a time and try to deal with what is possible in the short term, without losing sight of the other priorities such as constantly looking for avenues and opportunities to make progress for the undocumented.