Category: Archive

New visa plan?

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Patrick Markey

Immigration advocates are urging Washington leaders to ensure that proposed legislation for a transitional United States visa for Northern Irish residents not become a political football while under discussion on Capitol Hill.

The proposed legislation, which was drafted by Rep. James Walsh, and sent to both Congress and the Senate last Tuesday, calls for a visa for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Walsh first proposed the bipartisan legislation and is sponsoring it in the House. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.

While the bill has received solid initial backing, supporters of the proposal are concerned that Washington restrictionists, who also put forward the recent 3- and 10-year-ban laws, will try to block parts of the bill that they perceive as increasing immigration numbers.

“We know it will be an uphill fight, but there are many in labor who understand the need to offer economic opportunities in areas of the North and border counties where the peace process cannot work if jobs are not available,” Walsh said at the press conference introducing the bill.

Said Eamonn Dornan, legislative director for the Emerald Isle Immigration Center and for the Irish Immigration Reform Movement, “Our major concern is that this bipartisan bill is genuinely supported, and we have no reason to believe otherwise at the moment.”

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The legislation would create 50,000 non-immigrant, working visas for young, unskilled people from “disadvantaged areas” in the North. That number would be spread over five years. Recipients would be allowed to stay and work in the United States for a short-term period — not longer than 60 months — during which they could learn a trade and gain valuable work experience.

“It’s no accident that the people that we are seeing now are the people from those areas, mostly Northern and border counties, who missed out on the Celtic Tiger,” Dornan said of the recent immigration trend.

The bill proposes that the experience would help break the cycle of unemployment that cripples many of the target areas and regenerate local economies.

According to the proposal, those who have been exposed to sectarianism would also benefit from experiencing the “diverse, multicultural environment of the United States.” As well as work experience, the bill also proposes training in “conflict resolution” to help bolster private and public peace initiatives and grassroots cross-community projects, Dornan said.

Northern residents already in the United States could also benefit from the bill if the proposal passes unaltered.

“Our concern is that there is waiver language in both bills, that could provide some relief to the undocumented already here. It would be inequitable for these people to miss out on any benefits purely by accident of timing,” Dornan said.

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