“We’re Not Looking for Favoritism”

Ciaran Staunton of the Irish Lobby for Immigration at Finnigan's Wake in Philadelphia this week.

If you belong to an Irish organization in the Philadelphia area, you probably got an email this week urging you to call Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) to urge him to support Senate Bill 1983. It’s a measure, proposed by New York Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) that, if passed, would pave the way for 10,500 Irish to come to the US on E-3 work visas every year.

The E-3 visa, now only available to Australians (thanks to a sweetheart deal brokered during the Bush administration), is not a green card for permanent residency but a renewable visa for qualified Irish workers to come to the US for specialty employment. Temporary work visas are available, but in 2010, only 2,700 of these H-1B visas out of a total of 85,000 ended up in Irish hands.

Schumer’s bill amends the bipartisan HR3012, Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, which paves the way for professionals from places such as China and India to come to the US and for families of legal immigrants in Mexico and the Phillipines to sidestep decades-long waits for green cards to join their loved ones in the US.

The leaders of many Irish organizations, from the Ancient Order of Hibernians to the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Committee to the Irish Immigration Center, met at Finnigan’s Wake in Philadelphia this week with Ciaran Staunton, New York-based founder of the Irish Lobby for Immigration. Staunton told them that those visas would come at a critical time for the Irish. “Ireland’s unemployment rate is 14 percent, which is the highest it’s been in 16 years. And, as they say on the weather report, it’s getting higher,” he said.

Staunton said his organization is targeting 15 Republican senators whose support is needed to pass the bill. “Schumer told us, ‘I can get you the bill, but you have to get me the Republicans,” says Staunton. Those key potential GOP supporters include both moderates, such as Maine’s Susan Collins and conservatives, like Toomey, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, Arizona’s John McCain, and Scott Brown of Massachusetts who, with Mark Kirk of Illinois, introduced his own version of Schumer’s bill.

The main difference between the Schumer and Brown bills is that Brown’s does not include a waiver for Irish immigrants who stayed in the US after their temporary visas expired. Staunton, who supports the Schumer Bill, says having two opposing bills “doesn’t help us.” Asked by Liam Hegarty, a member of the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia’s board of directors, whether Staunton would be satisfied if the bill passed without the waiver, Staunton replied, “I’m not going to say I’ll take less than Senator Schumer wants.”

He urged the Irish leaders to “burn up the phones” to encourage Senator Toomey to break ranks and get behind the Democrat’s bill. “We’re not looking for favoritism,” he said. “We’re looking for fairness.”

View our photos to see some of the Irish community leaders who met with Staunton.

You can contact Senator Toomey’s office by calling 202-224-4254.

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