Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas
By Ray O’Hanlon
With Congress poised to adjourn for the Christmas holiday, the prospects for Senate approval for Irish E-3 visas is looking distinctly murky.
And while the original holds placed on E-3 approval by six Republican senators had either softened, or had been lifted altogether, a new hold has since been placed by another GOP senator who is not one of the original six.
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Initially, the six senators placed holds on previously approved bipartisan House E-3 legislation. It only takes one hold in the Senate to stop legislation in its tracks, and a hold can be placed anonymously.
Over the past couple of weeks the number of senators placing holds fell from six to three, then two. All six were named in reports.
By the start of this week the final two holds had been lifted, but, according to sources, the E-3s were still jammed up on a technicality.
Then there was the arrival on the scene of a new hold placed by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Cotton takes a particular interest in immigration and has co-authored a radical reform bill dubbed the Raise Act, a piece of legislation that seeks to cut legal immigration by half.
Cotton’s E-3 move, however, was initially seen as being related to Senate negotiations surrounding criminal justice reform.
Cotton had co-authored a number of amendments to the Senate criminal justice reform bill, but they were defeated and the bill passed the Senate by 87 votes to 12 on Tuesday.
Senator Cotton, then, is not a happy camper and could now morph into the Grinch that denied Christmas E-3s for the Irish.
The reason for the initial six holds ranged from one senator wanting to double check with the Australians to see that they had no problem with the Irish getting on board what has up until now been a visa program open exclusively to Australian nationals.
Another senator was advocating the inclusion of South Korea in the E-3 program. And another was placing a hold, as one source put it, “for no apparent reason.”
One of the final three, Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, wanted to see changes in an entirely different visa program, the H2-B, a program open to a large number of countries, Ireland included, that the Department of Homeland Security views as friends of the United States.
H2-Bs are temporary annual visas open to non-professional, non-agricultural, workers.
There were no indications that Republican Tillis had specific objections to expanding the E-3 program to Ireland.
Clouding the waters even further was a report carried by Breitbart News claiming that retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan was “quietly pushing” a bill to outsource many thousands of U.S. college graduate jobs to Irish graduates and “deliver amnesty to Irish illegals.”
There has been no evidence or indication that Speaker Ryan has been working a deal for the undocumented Irish, and amnesty for one nationality would be a virtual political impossibility outside the bounds of comprehensive immigration reform legislation covering the illegal and undocumented from all countries.
That said, an E-3 bill that stalled just before Christmas 2011 did propose waivers for the undocumented Irish that would have allowed them apply for E-3s. That Democratic proposal was countered by a GOP bill and the entire effort floundered.
Backers of Irish E-3s will be hoping that the latest effort won’t be a repeat of 2011, though time is fast running out with the Congress expected to adjourn on Friday, December 21.
If that happens with no Senate decision on the Irish E-3s the entire process will have to be started from scratch in the new Congress, both the House and Senate, when it convenes in early January.