By: Rachel Farrell and Laura Larkin of the Irish Independent

Thousands of Irish citizens will be able to avail of a visa to work in the United States under proposed legislation passed by the lower house in the US Congress.

The E-3 work visa, a two-year renewable visa currently reserved for Australian nationals, would under the bill which passed through the House of Representatives become available to Irish applicants.

It is for workers in "special occupations" - there is no prescribed list of jobs but the requirement mandates a specialised knowledge.

Only unused visas, not taken up by Australians, would be issued to Irish citizens under the proposed changes.

The bill must now be cleared by the Senate where it needs unanimous consent.

Work has been ongoing, spearheaded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, to gain access for Irish people to the coveted scheme over the past number of months.

Ireland's special envoy to the US, John Deasy, welcomed the bill's progress but said he was under no illusions over the difficulty the bill may face in getting through the Senate.

Tanáiste Simon Coveney has also welcomed the passage of the bill, describing it as a "positive development for future generations to travel to [the] USA". However, he acknowledged there was "still work to do".

To qualify for the scheme as it stands, a legitimate offer of work from a US employer must be in place, and have been accepted, for a person to apply.

The visa can be "indefinitely" renewed and a spouse can also work in the US but not their children.

If the law is passed, there will be a maximum of 5,000 visas awarded to Irish citizens. It will not be accessible to undocumented Irish in the US.

Jim Sensenbrenner, who helped to introduce the legislation, said the bill would add to the "great legacy" between Ireland and the United States.