December 2, 2010
A Boston lawyer with expertise in immigration law is calling on Irish advocates to reach out for Congressional help in amending a special visa program that benefits Australians who want to work in the United States.
Attorney John Philip Foley, an immigration specialist, says the US government allocates more than 10,000 special visas – called the E-3 visa – for Australian citizens, but most of them are never claimed each year, and he thinks a simple amendment to the law could be to the advantage of Irish citizens.
“Most Irish enter the United States as Visa Waiver visitors,” Foley explains. “As Visa Waiver visitors, they can stay in the United States for ninety days. If they over-stay by more than six months, a three-year ban goes into effect when they depart the United States. If they over-stay by more than twelve months, a ten year ban goes into effect when they depart this country.
“It is these Visa Waiver overstays who are stuck. They want to go home to visit but they know they’ll face a ban of three or ten
years, and won’t be allowed back into the United States.”
Currently, under terms of 2005 legislation signed into law by President George W Bush, Australian citizens with “special occupations” are entitled to apply for an E-3 visa. The documents are intended for those with bachelor’s or higher degrees. “An E-3 visa is similar in many respects to the H1B visa, but one important difference is that spouses of E-3 visa holders may work in the United States without restrictions,” Foley says. “The E-3 visa is also renewable on an indefinite basis every two years and it could lead to Legal Permanent Residency (also known as a Green card) and eventually to naturalized U S citizenship.”
Although the visas are intended uniquely for Australians, the majority available – some 7,000 each year -- go unclaimed. INS statistics show just 1918 new E-3 visas in 2006, 2572 new and six returning visas in 2007, 2,961 new and 1,568 returning in FY 2008; and 2,191 new and 1,421 returning in 2009. That compares with a total of 65,000 H-1B visas worldwide. That number is exclusive of Australia, and the visas are quickly allocated. With a modest change in the law, Foley says, some of those unused
visas could be obtained by Irish nationals seeking to relocate to America.
While Foley maintains the need for comprehensive immigration reform continues to grow, the recent changes in Congressional leadership suggest there’s little likelihood such reform will be on the political agenda anytime soon.
“But that doesn’t mean the Irish should stand still,” Foley says. “Irish lawmakers should be pushing for E-3-like visas. E-3 visas wouldn’t help the undocumented overstay already here but they could help those in Ireland looking for work and a legal life in the United States. … It is a visa distribution plan the Irish should get in on.”
(John Philip Foley maintains his law offices at 8 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, MA 02109, Phone 617-561-3788, e-mail: foleylawoffices.com)