New 'bridging visa' for immigrants

 

A temporary visa scheme is to be introduced for immigrants who have become undocumented for reasons beyond their control.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern today confirmed that immigrants from outside the European Economic Area who have become undocumented through no fault of their own will soon be eligible to apply for a temporary residence permit or "bridging visa" of four months.

The permit will give holders the chance to find a job or, if they are already employed, to obtain a work permit from the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment. It is expected the scheme will open for applications from October 1st up to the end of the year.

The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions welcomed the introduction of the "bridging visa", which follows a commitment included in the social partnership agreement Towards 2016after long-running campaigns by both groups.

The Government had previously signalled that it had reservations about such a move because it could provide an incentive for illegal immigration. While there are no official figures to indicate how many people may be eligible to apply for the scheme, the MRCI estimates it could benefit several thousand.

The group has documented dozens of cases of workers who were either promised work permits by their employers when they arrived in the country, or whose employers never renewed their permits. Such workers are often left in a legal limbo and are unable to access social welfare, even though they may have been making social insurance contributions in the past.

In a statement, Mr Ahern stressed that the programme was not a regularisation but a temporary permit that would be issued only to a specific category of undocumented immigrant. It will not be open to those who entered the State illegally.

"It is very important that foreign nationals who are in Ireland and working here do so legally at all times. However, I am aware that there will be a small minority of cases where it is clear from the evidence that the reason for the individual becoming undocumented is not the fault of the migrant but of the employer," Mr Ahern said.

"Where migrant workers have not been treated fairly by their employer and this has been the cause of their undocumented status it is appropriate that we give them the chance to put things right."