FOREIGN Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has said 50,000 Irish immigrants could be spared deportation as part of US President Barack Obama's new plans on immigration.
Mr Flanagan today hailed the proposals which will ensure thousands of undocumented Irish will be able to return home from the United States to visit their families.
President Obama said that he was taking a "common-sense" approach to a problem that has plagued America for decades.
It is estimated that as many as 50,000 undocumented Irish live in the US. President Obama's proposals could let up to five million immigrants who have had children in the US to remain there temporarily, without the threat of deportation. He will allow these undocumented residents who have been there for five years to apply legally for jobs, but not to vote.
Mr Obama said the immigration system was broken and that mass deportations would be impossible and contrary to the American character.
Speaking on Newstalk, Mr Flanagan said thousands of families will be buoyed by the measures.
"This is welcome news. The overall package has got to be seen as progress. Not everyone will be happy but thousands will and I think if you look at it in the overall context, I think there are 11 million illegal immigrants in the US.
"Of those, 4 million will benefit in some way from this new initiative," he said.
"From an Irish perspective, there are up to 50,000 undocumented. The figures are not clear because of the fact that they are unregistered and undocumented but it is estimated than many thousands will benefit," he added.
Undocumented Irish "had been waiting so long" for last night's reform announcement by President Obama, according to representative bodies for Irish immigrants in the US.
Stephen Ahern, who is executive director of Irish Outreach San Diego, helps illegal Irish in the south west of the country and said there was a real sense of excitement among the Irish community.
"They're waiting with a real sense of anticipation. It really is a very exciting time for us all," he said shortly before the announcement.
"A lot of people haven't seen their families in years so the chance to travel is very important," he added.