By: Rachel Farrell of the Irish Independent

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill that may see thousands of new visas issued to Irish citizens every year.

The E-3 work visa, a 2-year renewable visa that is currently reserved for Australian nationals only, would be issued to Irish citizens from the remainder of unused visas offered to Australians.

Some 10,500 E-3 visas are offered to Australians who wish to work in America every year, and if the bill receives Senate approval, up to 5,000 Irish citizens will be eligible for the scheme.

The bill was unanimously passed by the House of Representatives during a debate in Congress last night, the Bill must now be approved by the US Senate.

Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, who sponsored the bill alongside Democrat Richard Neal, said the passing of the bill would add to the "great legacy" between Ireland and the States.

"The United States was built on hard work and the determination of immigrants -many of them who hail from Ireland. Through their perseverance, they have enabled this country to grow and prosper," he said.

"I believe in the value and opportunity that comes with legal immigration. I am pleased to have authored this legislation to make the process more efficient for one of our oldest allies, and add to the great legacy of cultural diversity celebrated our country."

According to Mr Sensenbrenner, applicants outside the US will be able to apply directly at a US consulate, to lengthy processing times with US citizenship and immigration services.

He added that the visa would benefit both Irish and American citizens, including American citizens who wish to "retire" to Ireland with the Department of Justice currently looking to change the criteria needed for US retirees.

"This significant addition to the U.S. immigration system will not only benefit Irish nationals seeking employment in the United States, but also ease restrictions on Americans wanting to live or retire in Ireland."

The visa allows spouses of recipients to work in America, but not their children. Applicants must be employed in a speciality occupation, have necessary credentials and receive a legitimate offer of employment to apply.