- 30 Jan 21
The new measures announced by the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee today represent progress. But there is huge disappointment that they fall short of recommendations made by Dr. Catherine Day in her Government-funded report.
The government has announced a reduction in waiting time for asylum seekers to access the labour market in Ireland. However, the new rules have immediately been rejected as inadequate by the Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland (MASI), who described the development as 'appalling'.
The new measures were introduced by the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD. Under the new regime, asylum seekers will be allowed to enter the labour market six months after seeking international protection in the State.
In the recent past, asylum seekers had to wait nine months to get permission to work. Minister McEntee has also extended the duration of the work permits issued to asylum seekers from six months to one year.
Access to the labour market for asylum seekers was first introduced in June 2018. That decision has had a positive impact for both asylum seekers and employers, Minister McEntee said.
“To date, 6,006 permissions to access the labour market have been issued, including 4,569 permissions to Direct Provision residents,” the Minister said.
The decision to liberalise the arrangements follows a review carried out by the Department of Justice, in conjunction with an advisory group led by Dr Catherine Day.
IRELAND CAN DO IT
While the move is broadly seen as a positive one, the extent of the liberalisation falls short of Dr Day’s recommendations published, last year.
In the report, Dr. Day says that, for eligible applicants, the right to work should be “granted immediately to anyone who has already been here longer than three months.”
She also proposed that work permits should be issued in the form of Irish Residence Permit (IRP) cards, similar to those given to migrants from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA). This, according to the report, would be the best way of ensuring that employers would understand “that protection applicants with the right to work can be employed in the same term as non-EU nationals.”
Pointing to this advice, MASI has said that the recent announcement is “far from what the Government's expert group recommended and Government's own commitment in the Programme for Government."
“It is a betrayal of trust,” they said.
• In terms of the treatment of asylum seekers in the EU, MASI has cited Germany, where applicants for international protection have the right to work within three months of arriving in the country.
• Sweden is also mentioned for comparison purposes by MASI, for its decision to waive the requirement for work permits for asylum seekers.
“There is nothing in Irish or EU law that prevents the Government from exempting asylum seekers from requiring a work permit,” a spokesperson for MASI said.
“Sweden has done it, and Ireland and can do it too.”
There are other reasons for asylum seekers to feel disappointed. The new measures do not address issues like access to a driving licence or the ability to bank accounts. MASI takes the view that the snail’s pace of reform undermines the Government’s previous commitment to reform and eventually abolish the Direct Provision system.
“It is hard to see how the Government will end Direct Provision whilst maintaining restrictions on accessing the labour market,” they said.
Responding to a question from Hot Press on establishing trust between the State and residents of Direct Provision centres during a press conference last year, both Minister McEntee and Minister Roderic O'Gorman TD – whose department oversees refugee accommodation centres – cited their commitment to following Dr Day's recommendations as a practical first step.
MASI has said that removing barriers in relation to work permits for asylum seekers would also help fight racism.
“If the Government is serious about integration of asylum seekers and ending poverty, they will not only lift all the restrictions on the right to work but provide support for asylum seekers to actually enjoy their right to work and restore their dignity,” MASI has said.
The new measures do enable asylum seekers to appeal work permit applications that have been refused “on the basis of a first-instance decision being made in less than nine months.”
“Any applicant who has been refused permission in the last three months because insufficient time had elapsed since their application for international protection may make a new application enclosing all documents required under the new guidelines," says the Department of Justice's news release.