Dáil Éireann - Volume 674 - 11 February, 2009

Written Answers. - Emigrant Support Services.

[593] Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will actively support the undocumented Irish in the USA and encourage the Australian model as a priority. [5064/09]

  Deputy Micheál Martin: The Government attaches the highest importance to resolving the plight of our undocumented citizens in the United States.

In the absence, to date, of comprehensive immigration reform in the US, we have actively pursued a bilateral approach in this area, aimed at reforming our overall immigration arrangements with the United States and facilitating greater legal migration between the two countries. The approach has had three core objectives; a reciprocal Working Holiday Agreement (now operational); new bilateral arrangements to provide reciprocal long term working visas (known as E3s); and a solution for our undocumented.

The second objective, the provision of long term working visas similar to the E3 Visas available to Australian citizens, has already formed the basis for detailed discussions with senior Member of Congress over the past twelve months. Ideally, the undocumented would be able to avail of the proposed visa scheme. However, if that is not possible — as many of our key contacts have already advised — then their best prospect for a solution lies with comprehensive immigration reform.

The Deputy will wish to note that the E3 visa scheme for Australian citizens, put in place in 2005 as a result of a free-trade agreement between the US and Australia, is targeted at highly skilled graduates and is not open to undocumented Australians. If an identical scheme were to be introduced for Ireland, it would be of little benefit to our undocumented citizens.

Finding a solution for the undocumented will remain an important priority for the Government. In taking up the issue with the new US Administration and Congress, we are building on the extensive work on behalf of the undocumented that the Government has carried out over recent years with many of those now within the Administration, and in cooperation with the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, to which we have provided funding of $235,000 since 2006.

The Taoiseach, I and other members of Government will use the unique opportunity afforded by the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the US to engage the new Administration at the very highest level on this issue.