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Senator stalls US plan to grant up to 10,000 visas to Irish workers

A Republican senator from Iowa puts a hold on legislation which he fears would lead to renewed immigration in the US.

Charles Grassley has placed a hold on legislation which could offer over 10,000 visas to Irish people - including those already undocumented and living in the US.
Charles Grassley has placed a hold on legislation which could offer over 10,000 visas to Irish people - including those already undocumented and living in the US.
Image: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

LEGISLATION WHICH could see up to 10,000 Irish people granted two-year working visas each year has been stalled in the Senate by a Republican senator.

Veteran senator Charles Grassley of Iowa has placed a hold on an immigration bill, which has already cleared the House of Representatives, and which could grant up to 10,000 E3 visas each year.

Those visas would allow Irish individuals or married couples to live and work in the US for two years, as long as they arrive in the country with a job offer already secured.

The visas would be renewable indefinitely, and applications would be open to undocumented Irish migrants who are already living in the United States, without those applicants incurring the usual penalties for their illegal residency.

The hold is a US parliamentary manoeuvre which allows individual politicians to halt, or at least temporarily delay, the passage of legislation. It exists on the principle that legislation must have unanimous consent to be introduced to the floor of either house.

IrishCentral.com reports that Grassley had signalled his discomfort with the bill when it was making its way through the House, before the specific clause relating to Irish visas had been added.

‘Protect Americans’

“I have concerns about the impact of this bill on future immigration flows, and am concerned that it does nothing to better protect Americans at home who seek high-skilled jobs during this time of record high unemployment,” Grassley had said in December.

He is reported to be seeking a broader bill which permits immigration for skilled workers but which gives preference to US workers in recruitment.

Grassley’s hold could be defeated by a cloture motion, which requires the assent of 60 senators. The Democratic Party has 53 members, but may find as many as eight votes on the Republican side to overcome the difficulty.

This is assisted by the presentation of similar legislation by two Republican senators which would allow Irish people to apply for 10,500 E3 visas each year, but which do not allow currently undocumented Irish people to apply.

The Republicans’ Senate leader Mitch McConnell will be under pressure to ensure the hold can be overcome, as he himself is Irish-American and is under pressure from the country’s Irish lobby as well as from tech industries who perceive Irish graduates as being highly skilled.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore is likely to meet McConnell in a visit to Washington next week, and now may also seek a meeting with Grassley to discuss his reservations with the legislation.

Gilmore had last week said he supported the push for an E3 visa, but said he feared the onset of a presidential election meant it would be difficult to achieve the bipartisan support needed to enact the legislation.

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Gavan Reilly

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