Thursday, 28 May 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Mooney: I am particularly pleased to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt. He is here to respond to my matter which was transferred to the Department of Enterprise and Employment but he is also a Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs. The circle has been squared to a certain degree in that I have managed to get the right man, although he might be here for the wrong reasons.
Unscrupulous US companies are advertising in Irish newspapers and on the Internet inviting Irish citizens to send large sums of money in return for a service which could easily be availed of free of charge. The US State Department has announced the DV 2000 registration period is scheduled to begin at noon Eastern Standard Time on 1 October 1998 and close at noon on 31 October 1998.
Some of the advertisements contain misleading and inaccurate information on this new lottery round for visa applications. They highlight the availability of 55,000 visas and seek an application fee of £50 to £70. Under the DV 99 programme only 50,000 visas were available and were distributed to selected nations around the world. The essential point is that there is no application fee for a diversity visa lottery. A number of individuals contacted by these visa services have been asked to go to the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service to be fingerprinted. Fingerprints were not required for the DV 99 registrations which have just been completed.
Unfortunately, we can expect to see more of these advertisements in Irish newspapers and on the Internet in the coming weeks as the US State Department has recently announced the DV 99 notification process has begun. I wish to distinguish between the DV 99 process, where the application process has finished and the notification process is about to begin, and the DV 2000 lottery visa process which begins in October.
Lottery visa winners — I use the word “winners” advisedly — in Africa are currently being notified. This will be followed by notification of  winners in Asia and then Europe, including Ireland. It is expected that roughly 1,000 Irish winners will be selected. As a receipt of notification does not guarantee a DV 99 visa and since there are only 50,000 available — a reduction by 5,000 on previous years — I suggest the lucky 1,000 should respond as soon as possible after they are notified. Unsuccessful lottery applicants will not receive any notice of the failure of their names to be drawn in the lottery and, if they are still intent on seeking green cards, will wish to be included in the DV 2000 lottery, registration for which commences in October.
I also wish to take this opportunity to warn those who have been living in the US as undocumented illegal aliens for 180 days or more that they could face a three or ten year bar to re-entry to the US if they return to Dublin for the visa interviews. I am interested in the Minister's views on this issue. It is important to remember that since a successful DV 99 applicant must take up residency in the US upon receiving a green card, those who face a three or ten year bar have little chance of legalising their status; in other words, to use an American term, it is a double whammy.
Undocumented illegals in the US who were among the lucky 1,000 under the DV 99 process will have to return to Dublin to be interviewed at the US consular office. Green card applicants will be asked at the interview to document where they have been living since 1 April 1997. The comprehensive list of documents required includes tax returns, wage stubs, employers' statements, airline boarding passes, old passports, medical records, school diplomas or transcripts, Government assistance receipts — i.e., social welfare receipts — where relevant and public utility bills such as ESB and Telecom Éireann bills.
The three or ten year bar will only apply when the person leaves the US and attempts to re-enter. Some people have left the US and returned by presenting fraudulent documents but in so doing they are committing visa fraud which could have an adverse effect on their ever gaining legal status in the US. Ironically, one of the few options open to those who want to gain legal status, having been living undocumented in the US for years, is through marriage to a US citizen - not that I am encouraging full blooded Irish males to suddenly rush out and find a suitable American mate in order to establish legal status.
I know the Minister of State has a long term interest in this area. I suggest that, due to the far-reaching changes in US legislation over the past 18 months, DV applicants who receive notice of selection should call their local Irish immigration centre for information on how to proceed. For example, I have been made aware by my friends in the excellent Boston immigration centre that they received a call within the past two months from a family who have been living in Florida for the past 18 years as undocumented aliens, not because they did not wish to be documented because they had fallen through the system. They  unsuccessfully applied for every visa initiative over the past 18 years. Their children are attending American schools and they are integrated into American society. However, because of the changes in US legislation which affect their social welfare and other documents, they are now afraid they will be deported as illegal aliens.
I am sure the Minister of State will have a humanitarian response to this situation. In addition to addressing the question of fraudulent advertisements and the scam being operated by unscrupulous people trying to take money from Irish people for a service which is not legally required, the Minister of State might also indicate how the ongoing problem of illegals living in the US who wish to be regularised might be resolved. It is desperately unfair that if such people are successful in a visa lottery they could be debarred from re-entering the US if they return to Ireland to legalise their status. That would cause great trauma to people who have settled in the US and integrated into that society. While this debate is an opportunity to convey important information on the visa application process, it is also an opportunity for the Minister of State to respond accordingly. I am grateful to him for taking the time to come here.
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. T. Kitt): I thank Senator Mooney for raising these two issues. I am very aware of his work for and with emigrants over the years. We have been involved in many campaigns over those years. I will deal first with the question of misleading advertisements in Irish newspapers, as Minister of State with responsibility for Consumer Affairs, and I will then be glad to comment on the issue of illegals in the US.
Consumers are entitled to be satisfied that information provided by way of advertisement is truthful and accurate. Our determination to protect consumers from misleading advertising is reflected in the laws and regulations governing this issue. Under section 8 of the Consumer Information Act, 1978, it is an offence to advertise the provision of a service if it is likely to mislead the public to a material degree. Misleading advertising is also prohibited under the European Communities (Misleading Advertising) Regulations, 1988, which implemented a Council directive on misleading advertising.
Under the Act and the regulations the Director of Consumer Affairs is empowered to prosecute persons for such offences. The penalty for summary conviction under the Act is a fine of up to £500 or six months imprisonment or both. The penalty for conviction on indictment is a fine of up to £10,000 or two years imprisonment or both. The regulations also provide for penalties on conviction.
I understand the that Director's office will investigate any complaints in the area of misleading advertising and I ask the Senator to make available to the director any information  and documentation in his possession. The Director regularly receives and investigates complaints regarding the general issue of advertising. In 1997, over 650 such complaints were received.
I have been advised by the Director's office that he has not received any complaints in the recent past regarding advertisements which offer a service to prospective emigrants to the US. It is, therefore, important that information is furnished to him as soon as possible.
The Senator is aware that the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland was established by the advertising industry to promote, by way of self-regulation, the highest standards of commercial advertising and to enforce the code of advertising standards. Complaints received by the authority will be investigated.
 The Senator also mentioned the broader issue of illegal immigrants and people who wish to regularise their position. I share the Senator's concern about the position in which these people find themselves. As a former Minister of State in the Department of Foreign Affairs, I am aware of the humanitarian support given over the years by the US Embassy staff to people who found themselves in difficulty.
I encourage young people who are in difficulty to use the services available from our staff abroad. Although the services are stretched, the staff have always been helpful in individual cases of difficulty. As the Senator pointed out, there are also various support groups and emigration centres abroad which can help. I find the case put forward by the Senator most worrying and disturbing. I assure him that I will raise his concerns with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and ask him and his Department to respond in the speediest manner possible to points raised.
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