New York: Almost 11,000 Australians a year will continue to have exclusive access to a prized visa that allows them to work in the US following an intense lobbying campaign by Australian officials in Washington.
Fairfax Media revealed last week that Australia's ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, had "gone nuts" over proposed legislation that could have seen Australians competing with the Irish for access to the plum E3 visa scheme.
That legislation has now been withdrawn and replaced by a new draft bill that guarantees Australians continued access to up to 10,500 E3 visas a year.
This visa class can only be accessed by Australian professionals and is the envy of many countries around the world.
The new bipartisan bill would allow Irish professionals in the US to apply for any unused visas from Australia's annual quota in the subsequent fiscal year. It is expected to be voted on before the end of the year.
Australia's first preference was to remain the sole beneficiary of the E3 visa, which was created as part of the 2005 Australia-US Free Trade Agreement.
But sources said the Australian embassy was "comfortable" with the new legislation and would be recommending members of Congress support the bill.
Unlike other visas, the E3 visa permits the spouses of Australian recipients to live and work in the US without restrictions and can be renewed indefinitely. It is relatively cheap and allows Australians to bypass the pool of hundreds of thousands of other applicants competing for the right to work in America.
Despite these advantages, uptake of the visa has been slow and thousands go unused each year.
Some 5700 Australians took advantage of the E3 scheme last year, leaving almost half of our annual quota unused.
Irish officials have insisted that their goal has only been to gain access to any of Australia's remaining visas.
But the Australian embassy was concerned that, under the wording of the initial bill, Australian and Irish professionals would be competing for the same pool of 10,500 visas.
Australian officials pointed out that applications for the visa have been growing over recent years and Australians could miss out in the future if forced to compete with the Irish.
Australian officials raised objections with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and senior figures in the Trump administration in recent weeks.