The United States is being urged to give working visas to tens of thousands of undocumented Irish immigrants.
Speaking in New York after meetings with Irish immigrant groups, Dublin’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern said that the campaign for immigration reform was an “absolute priority” in Dublin’s relationship with Washington.
“I have said to my embassy here and consular staff right across America that the issue of the undocumented is one that we should give the highest political priority to,” he said.
More than 160,000 Irish citizens live in the US and Irish people with job offers in the US have little difficulty getting a visa. The US issued almost 10,000 working visas to Irish people last year, many of them to employees of US companies with operations in Ireland.
Now, he broader Irish American community is being urged to take up the cause of the undocumented.
Mr Ahern believes that fewer than 30,000 Irish immigrants in the US are in the country illegally, most of whom entered the country on tourist visas and stayed longer than the 90 days permitted.
Since the “war on terror” began, immigrants without valid visas have found it difficult to get a driver’s licence, open a bank account or to leave the US without being refused entry on their return.
There have also been a number of reports that some undocumented Irish people in the United States are falling victim to green card scams. People posing as lawyers are taking advantage of vulnerable immigrants.
“Each and every one of the 166 TDs and the senators as well have constituents, families who have some people out here who can’t go back for fear of not being able to return to the US,” said Ahern.
Congress is expected to debate proposals next year to deal with an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the US. Senators Edward Kennedy and John McCain have sponsored a Bill that would grant temporary visas for up to six years to undocumented immigrants who pay a $2,000 fine and any taxes they owe. During those six years, immigrants could travel freely and could apply to stay permanently.
Some Republicans want illegal immigrants to leave the US before applying for temporary working visas but businesses have warned that a mass deportation would be impractical.
* Meanwhile, a guide aimed at assisting the thousands of emigrants who return to live in Ireland each year is being distributed.
The ‘Returning to Ireland Guide’ covers a wide range of topics such as social welfare, health, pensions, taxation, education and accommodation.
The guide, which is published by Emigrant Advice, is tailored to suit the needs of targeted groups of people such as the elderly coming home to retire, single people returning to Ireland to find work, and the particular needs of families hoping to start a new life in Ireland.