Category: Immigration Reform

Billy Lawless Speaks to IrishRadio.com about E3 visas

Billy Lawless speaks to speak with Adrian Flannelly of http://www.irishradio.com/ in relation to proposed deal that will allow Irish citizens to apply for E3 Visas, as part of new immigration legislation.  The two year, renewable E3 work visas would come from the unused portion of the 10,500 E3 visas currently allotted to Australia.

Click on link to listen:

http://media02.ultratek.com/player.php?clid=5&mid=1841

Minister Ross Announces New Driver Licensing Measures to Help Returning Emigrants and Others

I welcome the announcement today from Minister Ross in relation to new driving licence regulations for returning Emigrants. I have pursued this issue with the Department since my appointment as Senator for the Diaspora.

Minister Ross Announces New Driver Licensing Measures to Help Returning Emigrants and Others

http://www.dttas.ie/press-releases/2018/minister-ross-announces-new-driver-licensing-measures-help-returning-emigrants

Tuesday 13 November 2018

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Mr Shane Ross TD, has announced the signing of new regulations which will make it easier for returning emigrants and others to obtain an Irish driving licence.

People taking up residence in Ireland, including returning emigrants, who have a driving licence from another EU jurisdiction, or from a country with which Ireland has a bilateral agreement on exchange of driving licences, can exchange their driving licence for the Irish equivalent. People with a full licence from a non-EU country with which Ireland does not have a licence exchange agreement are required to go through the driver learning process. This is done in the interests of public safety – while many people in this situation may have excellent records of safe driving, we need to apply a measurable standard against which to decide on applications for driving licences.

It is widely recognised that this system is both costly and time-consuming for returning emigrants and others. The principal source of both cost and time is the requirement to undertake a mandatory course of 12 Essential Driver Training (EDT) lessons.

Following discussion with the Road Safety Authority, and also with Mr Ciarán Cannon TD, Minister for the Diaspora, Minister Ross has now signed regulations into law under which people with a full but non-exchangeable licence will be able to take the driving test after a reduced programme of 6 rather than 12 EDT lessons. Due to the need for changes in the RSA systems and to prepare driving instructors for the new arrangements, the new measures will take effect from 21 January 2019.

Speaking today, Minister Ross said ‘I am very pleased to be able to bring in this measure. While it is not just about returning emigrants, I know that many returning emigrants who are not able to exchange their driving licences have found the process of getting an Irish driving licence very frustrating, as well as costly and time-consuming. This new system will significantly reduce both the time and the cost involved. I am aware that some people would like us to go further. However, I have weighed up the options, and I am convinced that requiring some lessons will help people to prepare for the test and improve their chances of passing at the first go, as well as helping them to adjust to specifically Irish road traffic rules. This will benefit a growing number of people, as our economy improves and more people come here, including returning emigrants.”

Minister of State for the Diaspora, Ciaran Cannon TD said, “This is a welcome move by Minister Ross which will assist a number of people moving to Ireland, and we now need to continue to work across all areas of Government to remove any further barriers affecting Irish people that wish to return to Ireland to work and live.”

Democracy Camp Speech Dublin

A chairde, Fáilte go mBáile Ath Clíath
Friends welcome to Dublin

I am absolutely delighted to be here with you today for the first Transatlantic Migrant Democracy Camp to be held in Dublin, Ireland. It is also great to see so many familiar faces, and good friends here from Chicago, my adopted home town.

Like many of you here today, I left my own homeland and began an immigrant journey of my own back in 1998 when I left Ireland to start a new life with my family in America. I understand the challenges of starting over in a strange country and the tough situations that immigrants find themselves in, but I’m here today to talk to you about your inherent power and the call for leadership, in your own communities here in Ireland and abroad.

Before being appointed an Irish Senator for the Global Irish, I was on your side of the podium, simply an immigrant stepping up to represent my own community.

I opened an Irish themed pub in Wrigleyville Chicago some 20 years ago where I encountered firsthand the Irish undocumented who call America home. In the weather beaten faces of carpenters from Donegal, and contractors from Mayo, I witnessed the pain caused by a broken US immigration system that divided families and hurt businesses. Today there are up to 50,000 Irish undocumented living in the shadows of the US economy, out of a total of 11 million people without papers. They come from nearly every continent, and while their faces may differ their stories do not. They came to the US seeking a better life. They work hard, pay their taxes and contribute to the US economy.

As a business owner with a voice and as an Irish immigrant myself I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. I would like to share with you several lessons I have learned:

Lesson 1 is: Step Up, and Organize Your Own: In Chicago we began by organizing Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform. If your own community is not organized, and you do not speak for them, then no one will or should recognize and respect you. The Irish immigrants connected with the large community of Irish Americans, from the generations that came before us. So when we began we had both Irish constituents and Irish American Allies.

The Irish have a long and storied history with emigration from our own shores, and we have a particular appreciation of the struggles faced by newcomers in a strange land. Over 34 million Americans today claim Irish ancestry, many of them descendent from the more than 1 million desperate men and women who fled famine-ravished Ireland during the Great Famine. When they arrived in America, the Irish faced a cold welcome – not unlike that received by today’s desperate immigrants and refugees, fleeing war and famine across the world.

Ireland itself has witnessed immense changes in the last 20 years as we transformed our economy and opened our doors to migrants from across Europe and beyond.

But Lesson 2 is: You Cannot Do It Alone: The Irish immigrant community in Chicago is small, and the undocumented are the most powerless. We joined the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and joined together with Mexican, Asian, Muslim, Palestinian, African, Catholic, Jewish, and European immigrant leaders and communities. There was a team of leaders, each respected in their own communities, who worked together as a team.

Through the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights we led the charge back in 2005 with the first of the mega marches that brought millions onto the streets in cities coast to coast, to fight the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill. We also worked to secure welcoming ordinances at the City and county levels to protect immigrants from deportation. In recent times, as threats grew graver from Washington, Illinois staunchly stood by its immigrant and refugee neighbours. My immigrant friends also recently passed the Illinois Trust Act, the most robust of its kind in America, which disentangles local law enforcement from the federal deportation machine.
Lesson 3 is: In A Democracy, You Speak For Yourself:
Immigrant communities lead by immigrant leaders are the key to success in any campaign for immigrant rights, and that recipe was no different in Chicago where we had many wins for our communities.
All of this was made possible by the courage, tenacity and dogged organizing of immigrant and refugee communities across the state, who came together for a common purpose. They marched, they held actions, they educated legislators, they communicated their message effectively through traditional and social media and they affected real change by directing the narrative and changing the hearts and minds, not just of the public, but of the politicians who cast votes on issues that matter most to them.
To do that they needed organizers and leaders like you to show real fortitude by stepping forward to tell their stories. The undocumented youth in particular who fought for the federal DACA program and the Illinois DREAM Act university scholarship program were formidable. You too have that same power, as immigrants in your own right and leaders in your respective communities here in Ireland and beyond, to change policies and affect laws that matter most to you

Lesson 4 is: Build relationships, with your allies and your adversaries: Politics is a funny business. Sometimes your friends stab you in the back, and sometimes your enemies will stand with you. At the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees, we intentionally build relationships with our adversaries, and we also held our allies accountable. We were in constant, continuous face to face dialogue.

We never won a single victory without going to those Republicans with whom we could dialogue, and standing up to be counted. We specifically looked for immigrant and refugee leaders who lived in their electoral districts, or who came from their religious or ethnic communities. We persisted over the years, always pursuing the political openings.

Lesson 5 is: Reward your friends, and punish your enemies: There were many times when the Democrats took us for granted and voted against us for political convenience. There were many times when it was convenient for Republicans and even Democrats to attack and demonize us. And we challenged them, and sometimes punished them politically.

At ICIRR we have been engaged in every election cycle, registering and mobilizing the immigrant vote. Sometimes we caused Democrats who did not support us to lose – Sometimes we caused Republicans who attacked us to lose. At the end of the day, politics is about power. We wish to be loved, but at the end of the day, respect is more important.

Lesson 6 is: Stand for the Core Values of Equality and Freedom: In the U.S. the symbol is the Statue of Liberty, the invitation to the poor and downtrodden to our shores. The core values of European Democracy are equal rights and freedom.

We are in a very difficult period in the U.S. and in Europe. The forces of hate are demonizing immigrants. I tell my Irish American friends who support President Trump: “You have short memories. The Irish were the original refugees. We came to the U.S. fleeing religious discrimination, an occupied nation, and dying by the millions from starvation.”

When immigrants and refugees stand up and say: “We believe in Democracy. We believe in free speech. We believe in religious freedom. We believe in equal rights,” that is a powerful thing. That means we believe that black refugees should be treated like white Americans and white Europeans. That means we believe that gay Muslims should be treated like white straight Christians. That means we speak out in support of undocumented Irish and Mexicans, asylum seeking Africans and Syrians. Immigrants and refugees can be, and should be the strongest supporters of the core values of equality and democracy for all.

In Illinois our organization was asked to support marriage for gays. Because we believe in equality for all, we voted unanimously to support it. The Catholics and Muslims on the Board – all very devout leaders in their faiths – said: “Our faith does not support this, but we will not deny it for others. We stand together for vulnerable undocumented, and so we stand together for vulnerable gays.”

In these ugly times of hate and intimidation, courageous migrants and refugees can be the BEST spokespersons for equality, freedom, and respectful pluralism.

Lesson 7 is: Sometimes you get rewarded for doing the right thing: We do this Democratic Organizing not be doing it for one year or three years, but over 20 years. What I have described to you took place over 15 years. We do not do it because we want to be rich or successful or recognized, but because it is the right thing to do.

But I now I am 68 years old, and I have seen that immigrant and refugee leaders who do this over time win respect. The African president of ICIRR is now the foreign minister for Sierra Leone. The Syrian doctor was named Chicagoan of the Year for his humanitarian work in Syria and for refugees around the world. The Mexican non-profit leader is now the Chancellor of the City Colleges. The undocumented Mexican student now has her Phd. And I was appointed to the Seanad, the Irish Senate, to represent Irish immigrants around the world.

As legislators in the Dáil and Seanad, we are responsible to the people and our living constitution, the architects of which admonished us “to cherish all of the children of the nation equally.” The revolutionaries of 1916 did not distinguish between newcomer and native, but rather envisioned an inclusive Ireland that welcomed all of its inhabitants and asked them to contribute their talents to the life of the Republic. Those of you living here are uniquely situated in history to be a part of the new Ireland, that is transforming itself and re-imagining what it means to be Irish in the modern era.

Grasp that opportunity and make your voices heard.
My appointment to the Seanad to represent the Irish living overseas, is a testament to the Irish government’s commitment to engage with the Irish diaspora but you also have the opportunity to focus its attention closer to home. As you enjoy this inaugural Democracy Camp be sure to learn from each other, develop leaders in your own communities and value your relationships. Cultivate them and be strategic in developing them.

I will finish with some wise words that could have been attributed to an organizer but surprisingly came from President Ronald Regan himself “If you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat”.

Go ráibh mhaith agaibh.
Thank you very much.

Economic Report on Addressing Challenges Faced by Returning Irish Emigrants

The Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, Ciarán Cannon T.D., has published a new report on Addressing Challenges Faced by Returning Irish Emigrants.

This independent report prepared by Indecon was commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with the goal of identifying solutions to disproportionate or unnecessary administrative burdens affecting Irish emigrants wishing to return to live in Ireland. The findings of this report will help inform the Government’s ongoing work on making returning to Ireland as easy as possible.

Speaking at the time of the report’s launch Minister of State Cannon said:

“I am pleased to be able to publish this independent report which contains new research profiling the welcome return of Irish emigrants, examining the challenges they have faced on returning home; and importantly, making recommendations to address those challenges.

In a world of increased international mobility and an increasingly global labour market, it is imperative that the Government facilitates the mobility of our citizens; that we enable them to travel abroad, continue engagement with them while they are living abroad, and most importantly, make it as easy as possible for them to return home.”

The report is published in full and you can download a copy by clicking the link below.

Report

Residency agreement could help illegals get deal in US

Irish Independent, Feb 26th

Giving the 10,500 US citizens living in Ireland a special deal on residency could unlock a remedy for the tens of thousands of Irish illegal immigrants in the US who are trapped in a legal nightmare, a leading campaigner has said.

Senator Billy Lawless, whose Chicago catering business employs 500 people, has said the campaign to help the Irish illegals in the US must focus on trying to get a special deal for them. The man appointed to the Seanad as the “diaspora representative” in May 2016 has quietly continued his work at Leinster House on behalf of the Irish overseas.

Read more.

Pre-Budget Submission Returning Emigrants

Senator Billy Lawless

Senator Billy Lawless Pre-Budget Submission (PDF – Click on link to view or download).

Since 2009, 193,200 people between the ages of 15 and 24 have left Ireland. Although the number of young people leaving in the year up to end of April 2014 has dropped, the latest available figures show that about 29,000 of those that emigrated in this period were students, an increase in this category of over 8,000 on the previous year. These figures also show that 47% of all emigrants had a degree or third level qualification.

In March 2014, the then Minister for Education and Skills announced that children of Irish emigrants, who have spent 5 years in primary or post-primary school in Ireland, will qualify for EU level fees at Irish Universities and third level institutions for undergraduate courses from the 2014/15 academic year. This move, while welcome, does not serve a person who may have emigrated with their children either at the start of recession or before and now want to return. Their children would qualify for the merit programme for scholarships to US colleges but, because they are Irish citizens, they cannot avail of any scholarship in the United States. If they come back to Ireland they would have to pay almost full fees to attend an Irish university.

There are other problems which face returning citizens that could be resolved with limited additional budgetary allocation to the relevant departments.

  • Absence of a single point of online website that could provide clear information for returning emigrants accessing services;
  • Enrolment Policies of Primary Schools that can have a discriminatory effect;
  • Car Insurance and non-transferability of no claims bonus;
  • Conversion of foreign drivers licences to Irish drivers licences;
  • Government, Landlord and Banking demands for requiring evidence ofutility bills as proof of address;

While small issues, they can act as significant barriers to enticing returning emigrants as well as integrating returning emigrants back into the Irish state. My submission also calls for the implementation of previous recommendations which would help ensure these, and subsequent issues can be addressed.

1 Strategy for return migration

Given the current review of policy on the Diaspora, it is important that provision is made within the new policy framework to develop and implement a strategy to facilitate return migration. This strategy to facilitate return migration requires a coordinated and cross-cutting policy approach to address the current barriers and obstacles to return. It also requires an action plan with adequate resources to implement the actions and to incentivise, support and facilitate young Irish emigrants to return to Ireland,
as the economy continues to recover.

2. Emigrant Policy Proofing

There should be policy-proofing of Irish social policies that impact
negatively on emigrants, before and after they leave Ireland, and to make recommendations on how these issues can be addressed.

3. Resourcing

Sufficient resources are required to ensure the Diaspora policy is fully implemented, and provision should be made for rigorous review and monitoring, to ensure it is effective.

4.  Regional Strategy

Stimulate investment and foster employment in the regions, (outside the major cities) to encourage young Irish emigrants to return home.

5. Database

Establish a register or database of skilled Irish emigrants abroad to
facilitate emigrants to return, if there is job creation within a specific area that relates to their occupation or field.

6. Immigration Centres

Foster closer connections between Ireland and its emigrants through continued investment and funding in immigration centres abroad and support groups in Ireland for returning emigrants and the enhancement of the online mechanisms.

7. Voting Rights

Extend voting rights to emigrants in Irish Presidential elections.

Billy Lawless’s speech to the Ireland Network USA Annual Conference Chicago

Ireland Network USA Annual Conference Chicago

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am absolutely delighted to be here with you today, for what is my first Ireland Network USA conference, since my appointment as Senator for the Global Irish last summer.

I am deeply honoured to be the first emigrant Senator to be appointed to Seanad Eireann – the Irish Senate – to give official voice to the millions of Irish men and women, who left Ireland’s shores, but who never forgot, the land of their birth, or lost their innate sense of Irish identity.

My appointment by our former Taoiseach Enda Kenny was an official and welcome nod to our diaspora, and an acknowledgement that the people of our proud and ancient island, desire a modern and mature relationship with their fellow Irishmen and women living abroad. I am also delighted to say that our new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has reaffirmed to me directly his own steadfast commitment to you,o ur diaspora.

Like countless men and women before me I left Ireland in 1998, to begin a new life for myself and my family in the United States. Ireland and the United States of America share a deep and enduring bond, forged over the centuries in common kinship and shared values. Over 34 million Americans today claim Irish ancestry, many of whom are descendent from the more than 1 million desperate men and women, who fled famine-ravished Ireland during An Gorta Mór.

When President John F. Kennedy addressed the Oireachtas in June 1963 he stated:
And so it is that our two nations, divided by distance, have been united by history. No people ever believed more deeply in the cause of Irish freedom than the people of the United States. And no country contributed more to building my own, than your sons and daughters. They came to our shores in a mixture of hope and agony, and I would not underrate the difficulties of their course once they arrived.

When they arrived in America the Irish faced a cold welcome – not unlike that received by today’s desperate immigrants and refugees fleeing war and famine – but despite that, the Irish set about building a new life for themselves, and in the process helped to build the United States of America, and in particular left their indelible mark on the fabric, of this most American of cities- Chicago.

I feel particularly at home here at the INUSA Chicago conference, as I made my own mark in this very city, when I moved here to open an Irish themed pub in Wrigleyville 20 years ago.
It was here that I encountered first hand so many of the Irish undocumented who call this country, home, and witnessed the pain caused by a broken immigration system that hurts businesses and divides families. Over a decade ago, I began championing meaningful immigration reform and I continue that work today in my new role as Senator.

As we all know, immigration is once again a hot button issue in America’s national discourse. Last week’s announcement that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), will be phased out for its 800,000 young recipients was a particular gut punch, to those of us who worked so hard to see the program implemented under President Obama. It only added to a litany of unfortunate actions, against immigrants and refugees including the Travel Ban, threats to withhold federal funds from Sanctuary – or better put, Welcoming – jurisdictions, and the presidential pardon for an Arizona sheriff known for his discriminatory practices against immigrants seeking a better life.
There are mixed signals as to whether Congress will act in the next six months to rectify this terrible wrong.

Friends, in these challenging times I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King Junior when he said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
I will continue to advocate for the least amongst us and am inspired daily by the selfless determination, of so many ordinary individuals and grassroots organizations -in the Irish community and beyond – who are heeding the call to action and are rejecting a vision of America that is inward looking and myopic for an America that is inclusive and an example for the world.

Poll after poll has shown that the vast majority of Americans – 74% – support common sense immigration reform – including a majority of Republicans I might add. The American people clearly want a solution that secures the border but provides a pathway to legal status for the 11 million here without papers. I ask you when has it ever been Republican policy, to not allow people to pay tax?
I am confident that a nation founded by immigrants and forged in the ideals of liberty and fairness can find a solution that is fair to the rule of law and to those seeking a better life.

Ireland too faces her own challenges today, none more so than the implications of Brexit, which could affect the wellbeing of every man, woman and child on the island. As we move forward, the Irish government is determined to keep the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland open, preserve the hard fought peace on our island, and mitigate the economic impact of one of our largest trading partners exiting the EU.

In an era of global citizenship, where people are more mobile and nations more interdependent, Ireland has made her choice to look outward and to embrace not only her place among the nations but her diaspora living overseas.
The revolutionaries of 1916 called for us to ‘cherish all the children of the nation equally’. Today’s open and inclusive Ireland is fulfilling the marker set down by the architects of our Republic, by redefining the meaning of nationhood and is reaching out to our diaspora in ways that were never done before. My appointment as Senator for the Diaspora is proof that your voice is being heard in the corridors of power in Leinster House and is only the beginning.

I have travelled to many American cities since my appointment, and have listened to the concerns of Irish citizens living here, and I am pleased to say that Dublin is listening to them now, too. The Irish government recently announced that it will hold a referendum on Voting Rights for the Diaspora in Irish presidential elections. This is an important first step in enfranchising all Irish passport holders living overseas and in Northern Ireland. I have been proud to advocate for this issue as a founding member of Voting Rights.ie and have always said that if 24 of the 28 members states in the EU can do it then so can we.

It is my job to highlight important issues affecting emigrants living overseas and those returning to Ireland, so I encourage all of you to reach out to me with your ideas and your concerns.
It doesn’t need repeating here today that Ireland has had a long and storied history of emigration, and it continues unabated today. If you stand in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood or in Yonkers you’re as likely to hear a brogue today as you were 100 years ago. The Irish continue to make their unique mark on the United States and in countries the world over. From India to Israel, from Dubai to Denmark, Irish citizens are moving, innovating and working in every conceivable industry and field.

I am particularly impressed by the Ireland Network USA with its myriad of local chapters, including Chicago, bringing together Irish and Irish American professionals and business people from every field, to celebrate their Irish identity and develop deeper ties. The Americans may have coined the phrase ‘networking’ but the Irish were masters at it before it was even uttered.

As a people we are naturally gifted with the gab and excel at making that personal connection with every other Irish person we meet. How often have you met someone from home who will rattle off a list of names until you land on a common denominator – a person to whom you both connect and who arguably binds you to the stranger you just met. The ancient tribal Celtic heart still beats strong under a modern façade.

The Ireland Network USA is in many ways a modern Irish tribe. It fosters relationships among its kin, encourages trade and enterprise within its boundaries and beyond, and binds its people to the land of their birth.

In closing I want to commend the INUSA for a wonderfully successful conference and for all of the work that you do to promote Ireland and foster Irish identity in the United States. To quote an ancient Irish saying:
Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine.

Under the shelter of each other, people survive.

Under your leadership the connection between Ireland and the United States not only survives it thrives.

Go raibh mile mhaith agaibh. Thank you.