Thursday, 24 March 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Undocumented Irish in the USA
75. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the actions that have been taken and the progress that has been made to regularise the status of the undocumented Irish in the United States of America since President Biden took office in 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15760/22]
I want to use my 30 seconds to recognise the passing of the late ambassador, Jim Kelly, who acted on behalf of the State and our people in an exemplary manner during a career that straddled both sides of the Atlantic in the EU and UN, providing him with a unique perspective. He acted as a role model not only for our own missions but many other missions also. I extend my condolences to his wife Anne and his daughters Orla and Ciara, and to the Minister and Jim's colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I thank the Deputy. He was an incredibly popular person in the Department.
Addressing the difficult situation of undocumented Irish emigrants in the United States 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, as it has been for many years. The need to address the challenge of establishing migration pathways, especially for the undocumented Irish, is of critical importance and has been raised by senior members of the Government at every opportunity. The issue was raised during our high-level political engagements over the St. Patrick's Day period across the US, not least in the bilateral exchange between the Taoiseach and President Biden on 17 March. I suspect it was also raised by my colleague, the Minister for State, Deputy Brophy. Irish political representatives will continue to build and maintain close relations with key members of the US Congress and high-level political contacts across the spectrum in the US, as we seek opportunities to deepen and strengthen our bilateral relations with President Biden's Administration.
I am pleased to see that immigration issues, including possible pathways to citizenship for the undocumented, are a priority for President Biden, as demonstrated by his proposed US Citizenship Act of 2021. The Government is actively supporting the efforts being made by his Administration, as well as efforts being made by the US Congress on a bipartisan basis, in the pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform, which still remains a very divisive issue politically in the US as the Deputy knows. Our embassy in Washington meets regularly with members of the House of Representatives and the Senate across the political spectrum. We are actively engaged with the Administration and Congress on finding innovative solutions and migration pathways to address the challenges faced by the undocumented.
In addition to seeking more options for the undocumented, the Government has continued its active support of a new E3 visa scheme that would facilitate legal immigration pathways to potentially thousands of Irish each year. The bipartisan reintroduction of the E3 visa Bill in Washington last week, that had previously been voted down by a small number in the Senate in 2018 and 2020, was a welcome development.
It is estimated that every parish in Ireland has an average 20 undocumented Irish citizens in the US. In reality there are far more from every parish along the western seaboard and in the west of Ireland. We have a unique opportunity with President Biden and his cabinet, which has more members from the west of Ireland than the Irish Cabinet. We need to use these connections. Many Irish citizens have made the United States their home. They have family, children and good jobs there. They are good citizens contributing to the United States. We need to have a clear legal pathway to regularise the status of our Irish citizens in the United States. The E3 visa is part of this overall mechanism. The progress made on this recently is very positive. I urge the Minister to redouble the efforts to ensure this particular measure passes through Congress and ensure it can get an expeditious passage.
Everybody in the House wants the same outcome, which is to find a way of regularising the lives of Irish people living in the US in the shadows. For many years they have lived and worked there and paid taxes there. In many cases they have married and have families growing up in the US. Often they are unable to come home for family funerals or for normal interaction with family and friends because they would not be able to get back into the US. It is a trapped way of living that consecutive Governments have been trying to address for many years. I do not know how many times I have been to Washington on this issue but it is quite a number. We have real friends in Washington who are trying to help us on this. This is not straightforward. Even to get the E3 visa proposal across the line is far from straightforward. We will continue to work not only with our friends in Congress but our friends in Australia to try to ensure there is a fast way to get this done.
The Minister is correct. It is not just about focusing on the executive branch of government in the United States. The House of Representatives and the Senate are very important in this. The previous Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, appointed the former Deputy John Deasy as a special envoy to the US Congress to work on the issue of the undocumented. He worked very closely with the Minister. He worked very closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin and our mission in Washington to prioritise the passage of the E3 visa Bill. Should we look at appointing a special envoy specifically for this role again? This person would engage on Capitol Hill with the Senate and the House of Representatives to help progress the legislation. It will require a very co-ordinated and strategic approach. Would it be better to have a politician on the ground liaising on it?
What we have done here at home strengthens our argument in terms of what we are asking of the US and what the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has done in terms of regularising the status of thousands of people in Ireland looking to have their status recognised. It is a very progressive example of how to do this.
Perhaps a special envoy would help. I would say that our embassy in Washington is all over this. It is constantly briefing key people. We have very strong advocates and supporters in the Friends of Ireland group and people outside of it. The Biden Administration is also supportive. We are not short of political support. There are impediments, some of which are outside of the control of people in Washington, with regard to the nature of the E3 visa and its links to Australia. We are working on it, that is all I can say, with regard to trying to build an understanding in Australia also. That is part of what we need to do.