By Ray O’Hanlon
With Irish immigrant advocates pointing to what they believe is a rising number of undocumented Irish in the U.S., Congress last week voted to allocate more skills-related visas.
However, efforts to restore a section to U.S. immigration law viewed as vital to the hopes of the undocumented failed in the House and Senate.
Section 245i, a relatively obscure section of U.S. code until it was allowed to expire by Congress in 1998, allowed the undocumented to remain in the U.S. while they attempted to secure legal work and residency status.
Under current law, an undocumented person must return to his or her country of origin in order to seek legal status in the U.S.
However, if the period of undocumented residence in the U.S. exceeds six months, the individual is automatically barred from the U.S. for three years. If the undocumented period exceeds a year, the ban lasts for 10 years.
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
Immigration advocates representing various ethnic groups tried but failed to hitch a renewed 245i to the bill passed last week.
The bill, however, does offer a greater chance to Irish applicants with college degree and high-tech or specialized skills to secure a H-1B Visa, a temporary clearance that allows the individual to work in the U.S. for up to six years.
The number of H-1B visas to be allocated over the next three years will now rise from an annual figure of 115,000 to 195,000.
At the same time, H-1B visas are heavily geared toward the computer industry, an area that the Irish government sees as a priority for luring Irish immigrants in the U.S. back to Ireland or for holding on to skilled Irish workers who could potentially land a job in the U.S.
With the jobless rate in the Republic at an all-time low, Ireland is now in a position to exert such a pull on both emigrants and potential emigrants. This situation is in stark contrast to the 1980s when unemployment in Ireland was at record levels and the numbers leaving Ireland each year could be counted in the tens of thousands.
€ Meanwhile, against the backdrop of new concerns about the undocumented Irish and the expected increase in available H-1Bs, Irish immigrant support groups are currently assisting applicants hopeful of securing a DV-2002 Schumer "diversity" visa, the application period for which runs until noon on Nov. 1.
In last week’s Echo, an incorrect zip code was given for the address to which Irish applicants must write. The correct address is DV-2002 Program, Kentucky Consular Center, Lexington, KY 41903 USA.
This zip code applies to applicants from both both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.