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US visa bill for Irish graduates set to be casualty of 'mayhem and crisis' in Washington

It looks like it won’t pass the Senate in time today.

A single Senator may stop passage of the bill.
A single Senator may stop passage of the bill.

HOPES FOR THOUSANDS of new US working visas for Irish people look to have been scuppered by a last-minute objection by a single US Senator.

The bill sought to allow Irish citizens avail of surplus E-3 visas that are specifically for Australians. It had been predicted that if passed it could mean up to 5,000 US visas a year specifically set aside for Irish citizens.

The bill was passed the US House of Representatives without the need for a vote earlier this month but it now looks certain to fail in the Senate.

It needed unanimous support in the 100-seat Senate because it was being fast-tracked but a “hold” has now been put on the bill by Senator Tom Cotton. 

The hold being placed on the bill means it looks unlikely to pass today as the Senate grapples with the passing of money bills to avert a government shutdown. 

If the bill doesn’t pass before the weekend a new bill would have to be initiated because the House of Representatives is set to sit for the first time under its new membership in the new year. 

Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan effectively steered the bill to this point but Democrat Nancy Pelosi is set to become Speaker of the House in the new year. 

Chicago-based Senator Billy Lawless of Seanad Éireann told TheJournal.ie that it feels like the bill has been “caught in the middle” of the “mayhem and crisis” in Washington. 

Lawless says that the only slim hope is that the impending shutdown means Senators have to return to work over Christmas, but even then the E-3 bill may not get passed.

We are working on it, we haven’t given up yet because who knows. A lot of the Senators went home yesterday, Thursday. They now look like they might have to come back over the Christmas because, if they don’t, tonight at midnight we’re going to have the government closing down. So the whole thing is just unbelievable and we’re stuck in the middle.

“In saying that, we’re working on Cotton. We have ourselves, the embassy, the government, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, myself, all of the other advocates,” Lawless adds.

“If he withdraws the hold and they come back, and I think it has to come back because the government is shutting down.”

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Lawless says Cotton is being lobbied heavily by Irish diplomats and advocates but that at present they are unaware what his objection is.

“He never indicated why but that’s the tactics when it comes to the cloakroom counting. At the end of the day we thought everything was fine and we were going to put it to a talk through vote, and then Cotton put a hold on it.”

The Irish Central reports that hard-right website Breitbart had written a number of articles in opposition to the E-3 bill and that a Breitbart reporter had contacted Cotton about the bill.

One of Breitbart’s articles accused the bill of attempting to “outsource many thousands of US college graduate jobs to Irish graduates”.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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