The US House of Representatives has passed a bill that could see Irish workers being given access to thousands of US visas every year.

Ireland is hoping to be added to the E-3 visa programme which is currently only available to Australians.

Every year, 10,500 E-3 visas are offered to Australians who want to work in the US but only about half of them are taken up.

Ireland wants to be able to access the remaining, unused visas but that requires the US Congress to pass legislation.

Last night, the House of Representatives passed the bill and it will now have to be voted on by the US Senate, possibly in the coming weeks.

E-3 visas are for two years but can be renewed indefinitely.  They allow the spouses of recipients to work in the US but not their children.

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To qualify, applicants must be employed in a speciality occupation, have a legitimate offer of employment in the US and possess the necessary academic or other qualifying credentials.

The issue of immigration was raised by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during his meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House in March.

Earlier this year, the Irish government agreed to ease restrictions on US citizens wishing to retire to Ireland as part of efforts to get access to the E-3 visa programme.

Those efforts have been led by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Irish Embassy in Washington and the government's special envoy to the US Fine Gael TD John Deasy.

Speaking in Washington following last night's vote, Mr Deasy welcomed the passage of the bill in the House of Representatives but warned that there's still some way to go. 

"The bill will now be sent to the US Senate and it needs to be passed there by unanimous consent meaning that it will require the agreement of all 100 senators for this to be signed into law", he said.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney tweeted that the vote was a really positive development for future generations hoping to travel to the US but he added that there was still work to do.