NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York will become one of the first major U.S. cities to expand low-cost healthcare to uninsured immigrants regardless of their legal status under a pilot program to launch next spring, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday.

The pilot, called Direct Access, will initially apply to 1,000 immigrants. Some of them are in the country legally but still ineligible for support under the Patient Pro­tec­tion and Afford­able Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. The program is expected to expand in the following years.

“The City’s actions today are the first step in our efforts to develop a fully inclusive health care system that protects all of our residents, regardless of immigration status,” Nisha Agarwal, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said in a statement.

New York, with the largest foreign-born population of any U.S. city, is following similar immigrant healthcare models enacted in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Under the Direct Access program, which will cost $6 million to launch, the city will create a network of primary and preventative healthcare providers specifically for uninsured and low-income immigrants.

Many of the city's uninsured immigrants currently seek healthcare at an emergency facility and have access to little preventative care, a spokeswoman with the mayor's office said. Many of them lack primary doctors.

Immigrants in New York have been discouraged from seeking primary or preventative healthcare for reasons including costly services and language barriers, according to a de Blasio-appointed task force.

In an effort to remove some of the barriers, the city's immigrant-focused healthcare network will also provide information in more languages and conduct public outreach and education on the new program to immigrants.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Peter Cooney)