Two bills that offer extended non-immigrant visas to the Irish are competing for support on Capitol Hill as the final days of 2011 give way to the general election year.
The bill, crafted by Senator Charles Schumer, S1983, is the measure that is attracting the support of Irish Americans organizations from the Ancient Order of Hibernians to the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.
This bill contains a waiver provision that would allow undocumented Irish apply for two-year, renewable, E-3 visas.
Crucially, Schumer chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee's sub-committee on immigration.
According to the ILIR's Ciaran Staunton, 53 Democratic senators are lined up to support the Schumer bill which is a Senate companion to an approved House bill, H.R. 3012, that raises the number of annual greens cards for citizens of India, China, Mexico and the Philippines.
Staunton told the Echo that the support of as many as ten Republican senators was being sought for the Schumer proposal, these being Republicans who have supported Irish visa bids in the recent past, and GOP senators in states with significant Irish American populations, they being Illinois, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, home base for Senator Scott Brown, who is advocating for the other bill of the moment, one that he himself drew up.
In the days before Christmas, Sen. Brown stepped up his effort to secure passage of his bill, which does not offer the waiver to the undocumented Irish.
In a letter to Senator Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Brown asked that Senate Bill 2005, the Irish Immigration Recognition and Encouragement Act of 2011, be included in any negotiations to advance H.R.3012, the House Fairness for High Skilled
Immigrants Act of 2011.
"This measure is crucially important to an Irish community that maintains strong historical and cultural ties with the United States," stated Brown.
Added Brown: "My bill would provide a legal pathway for the thousands of Irish that wish to come to this country legally. It would allocate 10,500 visas per year for Irish nationals under the E-3 visa program, which is currently only available to Australia.
"Most importantly, it does not seek to add controversial provisions that would endanger our national security or rule of law. With the bipartisan passage of H.R. 30l2 in the House of Representatives, the Senate has an opportunity to make significant strides towards fixing some of the problems in our legal immigration system.
"I strongly believe that the Irish E-3 visa provisions must be included in these negotiations in order to correct the long standing barriers to Irish immigration to the United States and recognize the unique relationship between our countries."