By Ray O’Hanlon
America need not be a place of confinement for the undocumented Irish.
It is possible to obtain visa waivers permitting travel back to Ireland, and, critically, a return to the United States.
But Ireland trails a number of countries in terms of securing visa waivers according to figures compiled by the U.S. State Department.
A list of the top twelve waiver-winning countries for the past three fiscal years shows Ireland in eighth place in each of those years.
In fiscal 2014, Irish applicants were granted 118 waivers, though there were also 280 refusals.
Ireland trails Mexico which is in first place with 8398 waivers in fiscal ’14, though Mexican applicants were also refused 35244 times.
Interestingly, the second place in the waivers-gained table, at 2211, is occupied by “Great Britain and N. Ireland,” which would presumably mean that some Irish passport holders from the North secured waivers to travel.
The figures were obtained by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform which has been campaigning for an end to the three and ten year exclusion bars that hover over the undocumented Irish.
Also ahead of Ireland in the table, and beginning with third place, were Australia, Bermuda, Colombia, Norway and New Zealand. Immediately trailing Ireland in the list were Germany, the Dominican Republic, South Korea and Japan.
Waivers that remove the three and ten year bars are a matter for U.S. embassies and consulates.
In a “guidance” document for such diplomatic outposts, the State Department highlights the discretionary powers that embassies and consulates retain in the matter of waivers.
The document states in part: “ The Congress, in enacting INA 212(d)(3)(A), conferred upon the Secretary of State and consular officers the important discretionary function of recommending waivers for nonimmigrant visa (NIV) ineligibilities to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for approval.
“You should not hesitate to exercise this authority when the alien is entitled to seek waiver relief and is otherwise qualified for a visa, and when the granting of a waiver is not contrary to U.S. interests.
“The proper use of this authority should serve to further our immigration policy supporting freedom of travel, exchange of ideas, and humanitarian considerations, while at the same time ensuring, through appropriate screening, that our national welfare and security are being safeguarded.”
In cases where waivers are granted it is often the case that the applicant might be a parent of U.S. citizen children, even though the applicant, he or she, might be undocumented.
The visa waiver issue has come to the fore in recent months.
ILIR, as well as other reform campaigners in organizations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Chicago Celts for immigration Reform, have been raising the issue with U.S. officials.
ILIR wrote U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, on the issue, as did the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs in a letter dated February 24th last.