Kenny has written to Kennedy, one of the leading advocates on Capitol Hill of comprehensive immigration reform, seeking advise “in respect of the promotion of a bilateral arrangement between Ireland and the United States with particular emphasis on the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish in the United States, but also in regard to setting in place a reciprocal arrangement for future years.”
In his letter to Senator Kennedy, penned before the uproar surrounding an op-ed in the Irish Times that laid out the case against any such deal, Kenny wrote that prior to the recent general election in Ireland he had indicated his preference that if efforts in Washington to secure comprehensive immigration reform proved unsuccessful, then Ireland should seek a bilateral arrangement with the United States.
“You will be aware that such an arrangement exists for example with Australia where 10,000 visas are granted each year by the United States with an equivalent 10,000 being available to the United States for entry to Australia,” Kenney wrote Kennedy.
Kenny said his proposition was in respect of an all Ireland agreement with both North and South operating in a reciprocal fashion with the U.S.
“This would be in keeping with a demonstration of the effectiveness of the peace process in which you had a major part to play and would recognize that 2008 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement,” Kenny wrote.
“The Irish government, and I understand the parties in Northern Ireland would support such general principles. I understand that a number of senators in the U.S. would be willing to promote such a bill but obviously any such move would require your imprimatur,” Kenny stated.
“I applaud your valiant efforts on this and other matters as an iconic leader for so many Irish people and would respectfully seek your advice as to the feasibility of political success in achieving a new and overall bilateral arrangement between the Island of Ireland and the United States,” Kenny concluded.
The letter was sent prior to Kenny’s party last week bringing a motion before the D_il calling for a bilateral.
The move ended up securing government support for what became an all-party motion that will, it is now expected, translate into a stepped up Irish government effort to secure some sort of reciprocal visa treaty with Washington.
As the D_il discussed the joint motion, a group called Friends and Families of the Irish Undocumented in the U.S. mounted a picket outside Leinster House.
Spokeswoman Kate Hickey told reporters that the Irish government had failed to secure a deal when other countries such as Australia had reached agreement with the U.S. on visa issues.
“All it took was for John Howard to go over there for two days and talk it out. In two days, he came home with 10,000 visas. There’s no reason why the Irish can’t receive those as well,” Hickey said, referring to Australia’s prime minister.
Australia, along with Chile and Singapore, enjoy bilateral visa deals with the U.S. In the case of Australia, 10,500 visas are offered annually since an arrangement was worked out between Canberra and Washington in 2005.
An Australian 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. Crucially, E-3 visas are renewable every two years but of particular significance is the fact that they can be renewed indefinitely.
However, of equal importance in a possible Irish context, undocumented Australians in the U.S. are not eligible for E-3s.