By: Ray O'Hanlon of The Irish Echo

Sharing is caring – so long as it’s the leftovers that are being shared.

Australia has relented in the face of the Irish bid to secure a portion of Washington’s annual E-3 visa allocation.

But the ground giving is on the basis of, as the Sydney Morning Herald reported: “Almost 11,000 Australians a year will continue to have exclusive access to a prized visa that allows them to work in the U.S. following an intense lobbying campaign by Australian officials in Washington.”

The Sydney daily reported that Australia’s ambassador to the U.S., Joe Hockey, had “gone nuts” over proposed legislation “that could have seen Australians competing with the Irish for access to the plum E3 visa scheme.”

The paper stated in a separate report that “Ireland is trying to muscle in on a special United States visa class that only Australians currently enjoy and which has limited numbers.”

A bill before the House of Representatives, H.R. 7100, co-sponsored by Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin and Democratic Congressman, and Chairman of the Friends of Ireland, Richard Neal, from Massachusetts, had proposed to “add Ireland to the E-3 nonimmigrant visa program.”

That bill has since been amended and, as H.R. 7164, is listed for debate and a possible floor vote today in the House of Representatives.

Prior to the bill amending, the precise method of adding had occupied Ambassador Hockey’s mind to the point of his apparently straying from normal diplomatic wording and method and venting his concerns to, among others, House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“It seems the ambassador, Joe Hockey got a bit excited about it,” was the measured, indeed diplomatic, reaction of Billy Cantwell, publisher of the Irish Echo newspaper in Sydney.

Hockey’s reaction to the bill apparently had an effect.

Again reported the Sydney Morning Herald: “That legislation has now been withdrawn and replaced by a new draft bill that guarantees Australians continued access to up to 10,500 E3 visas a year.

“The new bipartisan bill would allow Irish professionals in the U.S. to apply for any unused visas from Australia’s annual quota in the subsequent fiscal year.

“Australia’s first preference was to remain the sole beneficiary of the E3 visa, which was created as part of the 2005 Australia-US Free Trade Agreement.

“But sources said the Australian embassy was ‘comfortable’ with the new legislation and would be recommending members of Congress support the bill.”

The paper noted that despite the advantages inherent in the E-3 visa program, (Australian) uptake of the visa “has been slow and thousands go unused each year.”

It’s these thousands of unused visas that could end up being offered on an annual basis to Irish visa hopefuls.

At the same time, however, all the E-3s in a given year could end up going to Australia if demand from there reaches the 10,500 visa ceiling.

“Roughly 5700 Australians took advantage of the E-3 scheme in 2017, leaving almost half of our annual quota unused,” the Morning Herald noted.

The report additionally stated: “Irish officials have insisted that their goal has only been to gain access to any of Australia’s remaining visas.

“But the Australian embassy was concerned that, under the wording of the initial bill, Australian and Irish professionals would be competing for the same pool of 10,500 visas.

“Australian officials pointed out that applications for the visa have been growing over recent years and Australians could miss out in the future if forced to compete with the Irish.

“Australian officials raised objections with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and senior figures in the Trump administration in recent weeks.”

The paper noted that “many members of the US Congress have Irish ancestry, and are sympathetic to the idea of making it easier for Irish professionals to work in America.”

The Visa Weekly website reported that above and beyond Australian concerns about the Irish coming on board the E-3 program, Australian officials also fear that “if the Irish succeed, other countries also might want to be given access” to the E-3 program.

E-3 visas are awarded on a two year basis and can be renewed indefinitely. An E-3 visa holder can be accompanied to the U.S. by a spouse. In many respects the E-3s are not unlike H-1B visas or the extended J-1 Visas.

And E-3 program open to the Irish will not address the issue of the undocumented Irish, or open passage to the U.S. for a broad swathe of potential Irish immigrants as the E-3s, as currently formulated, are focused on people with specific professional qualifications.

H.R. 7164 is expected to come up for debate and a vote late Wednesday afternoon.

The bill specifies that Australians will have access to not more than 10,500 E-3 visas in a fiscal year but goes on to add: “For applicants who are nationals of Ireland, not more than a number equal to the difference between 10,500 and the number of applications approved in the prior fiscal year for aliens who are nationals of the Commonwealth of Australia.”

In other words, Irish applicants will be eligible for those E-3 visas not taken up by Australians in a given fiscal year.

It is possible that there will be a call for a voice vote today on H.R. 7164. If such a call is made and there is no subsequent call for a recorded vote the bill will be considered passed. If there is a call for a recorded vote that vote will be moved forward to tomorrow, Thursday.