THOUSANDS of new US visas could be issued to workers from Ireland every year after the House of Representatives voted to extend the E-3 visa scheme to Irish citizens.
The E-3 visa is currently available to Australian nationals only and allows them to live and work in the US for up to two years with a spouse – but typically only half are used.
Last night, a bill (HR-7164) proposing that Irish people be able to apply for the remainder of unused visas offered to Australians was unanimously approved by the House.
The legislation now goes through to the Senate, and – if passed – would open up a wealth of opportunities to Irish workers looking to start a new life and explore fresh opportunities across the pond.
Around 10,500 E-3 visas are offered to Australians who wish to work in America every year, and up to 5,000 Irish citizens will be eligible for the scheme annually if the bill passes.
'Our unique friendship'
Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, who introduced the bill alongside Democrat Richard Neal, said the passing of the bill would add to the "great legacy" between Ireland and the US.
"The United States was built on hard work and the determination of immigrants – many of whom 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 in our country."
According to Mr Sensenbrenner, applicants based in Ireland would be able to apply directly at a US consulate but should expect lengthy processing times with US citizenship and immigration services.
He added that the visa would benefit both Irish and US citizens, including Americans who wish to "retire in Ireland" – as the Irish Government has promised to ease restrictions on US retirees if the bill passes.
"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."
Fellow Republican congressman Steve Chabot said extending the E-3 visa to Irish citizens would recognise the special bond between the two countries.
"It's a simple bill that recognises the unique friendship and working relationship between the United States and Ireland," he said.
"HR-7164 allows nationals of Ireland to be eligible to apply for unused E3 non-immigrant visas."
A way to go
Speaking after last night's House vote, Irish TD John Deasy urged supporters of the legislation to be cautious.
"The bill will now be sent to the US Senate and it needs to be passed thereby unanimous consent meaning that it will require the agreement of all 100 senators for this to be signed into law," he said.
"I am under no illusions as to how difficult that may be."
Unlike many other visas, E-3 permits the spouses of recipients to live and work in the US without restrictions, but not their children.
To qualify, applicants must be employed in a specialty occupation, have necessary qualifications and receive a legitimate offer of employment from the US.