Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Senators Claim to have Votes to Increase Irish Guest Worker Visas in time for St. Patrick's Day

Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Scott Brown (R-MA) continue to push legislation granting an additional 10,500 work visas to Irish nationals in hopes of passing it in time for St. Patrick's Day, March 17. Sources say that at least one of them is claiming to have the filibuster proof majority necessary to pass the legislation in the Senate. The legislation could appear on the Senate floor in one of two forms: (1) an amended version of S. 1983, introduced by Sen. Schumer; or (2) S. 2005, introduced by Sen. Brown. Unlike some of Sen. Schumer's proposals, Sen. Brown's bill does not include an amnesty for illegal aliens of Irish nationality. Nonetheless, both pieces of legislation have the effect of expanding the E-3 visa program to admit at least 10,500 Irish guest workers annually, PLUS an unlimited number of visas for spouses and children of E-3 visa holders.

Congress created the E-3 visa program under the 2005 REAL ID Act. It is exclusively for Australian nationals who seek a nonimmigrant visa to come to the U.S. to work in a "specialty occupation." (See Pub. L. No. 109-13 § 501(a)) The current annual cap for E-3 visas is 10,500, and there is no cap on the number of derivative visas handed out to the spouses and children (up to age 21) of E-3 visa holders. (INA § 214(g)(11)) While touted by some as a visa for "high-skilled" workers, the threshold for qualifying for it is low. Federal regulations define "specialty occupation" to require only a Bachelor's degree — or its equivalent — in a broad variety of fields ranging from architecture and the social sciences to accounting. (8 C.F.R. 214.2(h)(4)(ii))

Both the amended version of S. 1983 and S. 2005 would allow an additional 10,500 E-3 guest worker visas to be given solely to Irish nationals. (INA § 101(a)(15)(E)(iii); INA § 214(g)(11)) However, rather than holding Irish nationals to the same "specialty occupation" standard as the Australians, these bills would lower the skill standard even further by only requiring Irish recipients of the E-3 visa to have just two years of work experience in a particular field, OR to have obtained a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Overall, S. 1983 as amended and S. 2005 represent poor immigration policy on several levels. Admitting an additional 10,500 individuals into the country (even more with an unlimited number of spouses and children) would increase immigration — and competition for scarce jobs — at a time when there are already 13 million unemployed Americans seeking work. Further exacerbating this problem, the bill lacks a requirement that employers seek legal U.S. workers before they can hire an E-3 visa holder and lowers the skill-set required to gain entry into the country. Finally, these bills carve out a special rule for members of a single nationality, creating a slippery slope in which representatives from every country around the world will seek similar preferential treatment.


Immigration, Border Security Agencies Still At Odds

The various federal agencies that deal with immigration and border security issues are still not on the same page even more than a decade after the 9/11 attacks, according to a new report unveiled this week.

The Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), said the country is more secure than before 9/11.

But the report also concluded that agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP, which includes the Border Patrol) still have significant problems linking databases and maintaining efficient lines of communication.

“Progress has been made, but there are some issues that stand between us and more success,” said Douglas Ellis, lead investigator on the report for OIG.

“Some have to do with our data systems, most of which are old and don’t connect well to each other or in some cases don’t connect at all with each other,” Ellis noted.

Other problems concern infrastructure. These agencies within DHS are physically based far from each other in Washington, D.C. In other words, it’s not just like someone from ICE can just walk down the hall to meet with CBP.

Officials at DHS who reviewed the OIG report agreed with most of the recommendations to improve the system.

But they also took some exceptions, such as not agreeing to permanently shut down a program — the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) — created in 2002 which called for immigrants, primarily from Middle Eastern countries, to report and register with the government.

The program was actually discontinued years ago, but kept on the books. Homeland Security wants to maintain it alive in case it needs to be brought back, officials said in their response to the OIG report.

The 9/11 attacks prompted a massive restructuring of the federal immigration system.

The former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was closed down and most immigration matters were transferred to DHS, which began operating in March 2003.

Another federal agency, the Department of Justice, retained some immigration functions, such as overseeing the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) — the immigration court system.


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