Irish Citizens Get Access to Unused Australian E-3 Work Visas
by Benjamin A. Nucci
H.R. 7164, passed by the House of Representatives recently, proposes to provide Irish workers with access to the coveted E-3 visa program. The bipartisan Bill seeks to provide Irish citizens with access to any unused E-3 visas from the prior fiscal year. Currently, E-3 visas are only available to Australian citizens.
The Bill is a revision of H.R. 7100, introduced in late October, which sought to permit Irish citizens to compete directly with Australian nationals for the 10,500 E-3 visa slots. After an aggressive pushback from the Australian High Commission in Washington D.C., Representatives Sensenbrenner and Neal restyled the proposal as H.R. 7164, preserving Australia’s right of first access by only permitting Irish nationals to apply for remaining visas from the 10,500 allotment of the previous fiscal year. The Bill was passed by the House yesterday, and now heads to the Senate.
The E-3 Visa Category
The E-3 is a non-immigrant, two-year employment visa available to Australian citizens coming to the United States solely to perform services in a specialty occupation. The visa category was established by Section 501 of the REAL ID Act of 2005, Pub.L. 109-13, 119 Stat. 302, and signed into law by President George W. Bush on May 11, 2005. See 8 U.S.C. 1184. The E-3 visa was a result of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement.
The E-3 visa category offers some significant advantages when compared to other U.S. non-immigrant work visas. These include indefinite renewals for up to two-year increments and the ability of a dependent spouse of an E-3 holder to apply for work authorization. Moreover, the streamlined application process makes the E-3 visa an attractive option for employers. Unlike the H-1B or L visa categories that require navigating the lengthy filing process of a I-129 petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, E-3 applicants instead have the option of applying directly at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
Currently, there are 10,500 new E-3 visas available annually to Australian citizens. See 8 U.S.C. 1184(g)(11)(B). By contrast, there are only 60,000 new H-1B visas available to all nationalities (with an additional 20,000 for those who have earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher). While Australians have never reached the E-3 cap, the number of visas issued annually has steadily increased over the past five years:
See here. Of note, these numbers do not include returning Australians whose visas have expired (E-3R visas) or the spouse or dependent children of E-3 visa holders (E-3D visas).
H.R. 7164 was quickly passed by the House on November 28, with no amendments. The Bill now heads to the Senate, where it will require unanimous consent to pass. While proponents initially believed that some Democrats would fight the proposal, all appear to have signed on after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s backing of the revised E-3 program. Instead, however, three Republican senators are reportedly putting holds on the Bill despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s support.
If enacted, the Bill will provide U.S. employers with a streamlined and cost effective method to secure work authorization for Irish professionals in an immigration climate fraught with backlog and delay. Likewise, the Bill may also result in reciprocal work authorization being made available for U.S. citizens in Ireland.