Martin, who wrapped up the negotiations on an expanded J1 holiday/work visa program during a stopover in the nation’s capital, was quick to point out that the visa deal was separate and distinct from the widely hoped for bilateral visa deal and comprehensive immigration reform.
But in an interview with the Echo in New York, Martin spoke of “a three pronged approach” to expanded legal movement both ways across the Atlantic.
Under the J1 agreement as many as 20,000 Irish citizens would be allowed enter the U.S. and stay for up to a year. Unlike the current version of the J1 program, the visa recipients will not have to be third level college students. And the current program, which allows students into the U.S. to work for the summer months, will continue on a separate basis.
Martin sealed the deal last week at a meeting in Washington with Deputy Secretary of State, Ambassador John Negroponte.
“I am delighted that following months of negotiations, we have reached an agreement on a new working holiday agreement that will enable a minimum of 20,000 Irish citizens who are in, or have recently completed, post secondary education to work and travel in the U.S. for up to 12 months. This represents one of the most significant developments in our visa arrangements with the US in almost two decades,” Martin said in a statement.
“Today’s announcement is just one element in our three pronged approach involving a solution for our undocumented; new bilateral arrangements to provide reciprocal long term working visas (known as E3s) and the Working Holiday Agreement. Finding a solution for our undocumented remains a key priority for this government,” he said.
In his Echo interview, Martin emphasized that his government was separately working towards a bilateral visa deal with the U.S. based on the existing E3 program linking the U.S. and Australia.
And he acknowledged that the new J1 link would hold no benefit for the undocumented Irish, nor could it be in any way seen as a step along the road to immigration reform.
The bilateral plan, said Martin, would result in U.s. citizens being able to come to Ireland on the basis of a two-year renewable visa and Irish citizens coming to America on the same basis.
“There’s a lot of support on the hill,” Martin said in relation to the bilateral idea. He said that both the J1 deal and any bilateral would stand on their own but the “bilateral framework” amounted to an effort to ensure that there would not be a new generation of undocumented Irish
He said that while in Washington he had discussed the “most fundamental issue” with lawmakers, that being the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform that would be of benefit to thousands of presently undocumented Irish.
“Clearly there are differences of opinion,” said Martin while adding that he had been heartened by the fact that “the key people” had told him that they were not stepping away from the issue. He hoped for renewed action on reform when the new Congress convenes in January.
In Washington he had discussed reform with, among others, Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee), Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Rep. Zoe Lofgren who chairs the House Sub-Committee on Immigration.
Martin said that he had personally been made aware of ” very harrowing experiences” suffered by undocumented individuals.
Against this backdrop, Martin met with Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform leaders in New York and announced a new aid package of $50,000 for the group. Total Irish government funding to ILIR since 2006 now exceeds $235,000.
“I am determined to continue the government’s strong commitment to finding a solution for this marginalized group of Irish citizens,” Martin said in reference to the undocumented.
“ILIR have helped to mobilize Irish communities across the U.S. and have made a lasting positive impression on some of the most powerful political figures in Washington. I look forward to working closely with them in the period ahead to deliver a solution,” he said.