Category: Archive

Aussies’ sweet deal

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The program was introduced last year and has the potential to open America’s doors to tens of thousands of Australians in the coming years.
The apparent generosity towards Australia seems to go against the current view of many in Congress, one that is in favor of placing greater immigration restrictions on foreign nationals, including the Irish.
The visa for Australian nationals is called an E-3. It was approved by Congress in last May and the scheme allows for 10,500 visas for successful Australian applicants on an annual basis — annual meaning the fiscal year.
And it goes beyond this number in that an E-3 visa holder can bring a spouse and children to the U.S.
The spouse is allowed work but, as is the case with the children, does not count against the annual 10,500 ceiling.
A primary effect of the E-3 program is that Australians no longer have to compete with people from around the world, including the Irish, for the annual allotment of H-1B visas, which, not to make light of their appeal, go faster these days than shrimp off a barbie.
The advantage to Australians is clear in both relative and absolute terms – 10,500 visas a year is not a small number in a country with low migration levels and a population not much more than 20 million.
And it is a significant number indeed when matched against an annual total of just 65,000 H-1B visas that is open to a worldwide pool of applicants.
The E-3 visas do have specific requirements, not least the fact that a successful applicant must at least have attained a bachelor’s degree and is traveling to the U.S. to take up a post in what the program calls a “specialty occupation.”
It should be noted that undocumented Australians in the U.S. are not eligible for E-3s.
In overall terms, the standards applied to applicants and employers by U.S. immigration authorities are the same as applied to the H-1B visas.
But a significant difference between the two visas is with regard to renewal.
Under current rules, an H-1B holder can stay in the U.S. for six years, the visa being initially awarded for three years and renewable for a further three when it is up.
While people in certain fields can apply for additional extensions, most H-1B holders must leave the U.S. after six years. After a year outside the country they are eligible to apply for a new visa, but given the global demand the chances of securing a new H-1B are slim.
The E-3 visas are renewable every two years but of particular significance is the fact that they can be renewed indefinitely.
As such, the holder has a strong chance after a number of years of making a case for permanent residence and securing employer sponsorship to that end.
Congress granting a specific visa to one country is not entirely new.
But it is rare and few allocations have been as broad, or as generous as the E-3 program.
Even the Donnelly and Morrison visas – programs that many to this day view as being inextricably linked to Ireland – were open to applicants from many nations. The Donnelly program, for example, was open to applicants from 36 countries.
The ongoing Walsh visa program is aimed exclusively at Ireland, but it is confined in both its application and scope compared to the H-1B and E-3 initiatives.
The diversity visa lottery, often referred to as the Schumer visa program, offers a 50,000 visa pool annually to eligible countries but also has a set aside of 5,000 visas each year for a group of central American countries.
Congress viewed the set aside as a way of helping refugees from natural disasters and civil war.
War is in the background of the E-3 program as well. Australia, of course, is at peace with itself, but it has been an important U.S. ally in the war on terror.
And this was a factor in the emergence of the E-3s which were shepherded through an approving and sympathetic U.S. Senate by majority leader, Sen. Bill Frist.
At the time of the program’s approval, sections of the Australian media noted the close ties between Washington and Canberra.
A report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation stated that “[Prime Minister John] Howard government’s close relationship with the Bush administration has secured a major easing of immigration restrictions for Australians wanting to work in the United States.”
The report stated that the new visa gave “preferred status” to Australians but added that the E-3 would be controversial.
To this end, the report said that Australian officials had tried to keep negotiations for the deal secret “to prevent anti-immigration lobbyists from persuading members of the Congress to vote against it.”
Indeed, the ABC report added, the negotiations had been “top secret” while “one of the tactics included attaching the Australian changes to a much more significant piece of legislation, a bill approving more money for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“That meant the Australian deal slipped through with little discussion or attention, and it also ensured the bill was voted on swiftly, because it was attached to something of high importance.”
A spokeswoman for the Australian consulate in New York was less at pains to distance the E-3 program from Australia’s military ties with Washington than from an Australia/U.S. free trade pact — The Australia/United States Free Trade Agreement, or AUSTFA — which was negotiated and concluded a few months before the E-3 deal became public.
The visas and the trade agreement were not related, the spokeswoman told the Echo.
This might not be for the want of trying.
An Australian government web site reference to the negotiations leading up to the trade agreement states: “The Australian government sought outcomes in the AUSFTA negotiations to further facilitate the conditions for the temporary entry of Australian business persons and professionals to the United States.
“While it did not prove possible to include a chapter on temporary entry in the AUSFTA, cooperative efforts since the agreement was concluded have resulted in the U.S. Congress passing legislation to create a new visa category for Australian professionals, the E-3. “
In the end, according to the consulate spokeswoman, the E-3 visas were more a reflection of the warm and strong relationship between the United States and Australia.
This, in a sense, is good news for the Irish in that Ireland, because of its European Union membership, is not in a position to negotiate a bilateral trade pact with Washington.
At the same time, the relationship between Ireland and the United States is certainly warm and strong in a variety of contexts, though by no means an exact replica of that between the two continent-sized signatories to AUSTFA.
As Irish politicians have been increasingly willing to openly advocate on behalf of the undocumented Irish in recent months, groups such as the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform have little to lose by holding up the E-3s as a possible model of relief – though perhaps with lower qualification bars – for an undocumented Irish population it estimates at close to four times 10,500.

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