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Joe Guzzardi

n what may be the most defiant lame duck plot in recent history, outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan has, mostly under the radar, put forward a plan to make thousands of U.S. jobs available to Irish nationals.

Illegal immigration is rarely associated with the Irish, but some have been living in the United States unlawfully for more than 30 years, and they have an active lobbying arm. Ryan isn't the first House Speaker promote an Irish amnesty. His predecessor, John Boehner, also floated the idea to a Dublin audience. On November 28, Ryan's H.R. 7164, which would add Ireland to the E-3 nonimmigrant visa program, passed the House on a cowardly voice vote.

Ryan has consistently been one of the House GOP's most strident anti-American/pro-overseas worker advocates. Two years ago, Ryan heartily endorsed what became known as the "any willing worker" program which essentially proposed that whenever an employer had a gap in his staffing requirements, he could, instead of raising wages to attract American workers, tap into the worldwide immigrant labor pool.

Under Ryan's bill, an estimated 5,000 annual employment authorization documents, renewable every two years in perpetuity, would be available to Irish college graduates, a scheme similar to President George W. Bush's 2005 gift of 10,500 E-3 work permits to Australians. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services defines the E-3 as a visa for "specialty occupation professionals," although in practice some existing visa holders perform routine job functions. Since E-3 spouses also are work authorized, the actual total of eventual Irish job candidates will exceed the advertised 5,000.

The last thing recent U.S. college graduates and existing American workers need is more foreign-born competition in the form of white-collar visa holders. The investment bank Goldman Sachs estimates that about 1 million H-1B visa recipients work domestically at jobs that normally would be filled by U.S. college graduates. Other visas that authorize U.S. employment and displace Americans include the L designed for intracompany transfers, the J for foreign nationals in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, the O for exceptional talent, and the TN for Canadian and Mexican North American Free Trade Agreement professionals.

When all the other employment-based visas listed above are added to Goldman's 1 million H-1Bs, the aggregate total of foreign-born workers in the U.S. approaches 1.5 million.

Good news and bad news. The good: For Ryan's proposal to become law, the U.S. Senate must support it 100 percent. That's possible, but highly improbable. The instant one senator tells Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he's opposed, the bill dies.

The bad: Outside of the Irish and big business lobbies, there is little national support for such a jobs giveaway. Ryan's maneuver is craven politics at its worst, and represents a shining example of why outgoing Congresses should not be allowed to vote on legislation during the lame duck session.

Wisconsin, where soon-to-be banking industry lobbyist Ryan was born and has served in the state's First District since 1999, has 85 colleges and universities whose thousands of graduates will enter a competitive labor market. Ryan's first obligation is to Wisconsinites and other Americans with U.S. college degrees, not Irish nationals.

Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at jguzzardi@pfirdc.org.

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