The number of Irish people legally emigrating to the U.S. has risen by 12 percent.

New figures show that some 1,637 people were granted green cards in the U.S. in 2009, mostly by marriage.

This compares to 1,465 Irish green cards the year previous.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said a mere 494 people were granted green cards through their employers.

The president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, Ciaran Staunton, said the upsurge in new applications pointed to a pent-up demand for American visas.

"We have always said that more Irish people would come here if they could come here legally," he said.

"This just proves it."

There are an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish in the U.S. and Staunton says that Ireland and the U.S. need to fix this issue.

"As you can see from the figures, the legal opportunities are few and far between," he said.

"Some 150,000 people are expected to leave Ireland over the next 12 months, and most of them will come here because they have family or friends here.

"Unfortunately, no one can sponsor them because there is no legal way to do that."

"And even more unfortunately, a young Irish person is better off in USA undocumented and working than being in Ireland legal and unemployed."

The numbers of Irish people seeking legal employment in the U.S. are repeated elsewhere.

Canada and Australia saw jumps of 13 percent and 25 percent jumps in the number of residence visas issued to Irish nationals.

And in Britain, authorities say there has been a 7 percent rise in the number of Irish people registering to work there.

Even more strikingly, the vast majority of the Irish who registered to work (7,380 people) were aged between 18 and 34.

The Irish support group Crosscare Migrant Project said they advised Irish people to go to Australia and Canada because the U.S. has a difficult visa application procedure.

“There continue to be general inquiries about the US but it is simply not as accessible as Canada and Oz for young people who are interested in taking a year or two out doing casual work,” said Joe O’Brien of Crosscare.