More than 7,800 undocumented migrants have applied to regularise their legal status to live in Ireland under a “life-changing” Government scheme which closed on July 31st.
The programme, which launched in January 2022, was hailed as a “once in a generation” opportunity for Ireland’s estimated 17,000 undocumented migrants, including 3,000 children, to apply for Stamp 4 permission to live and work in the State.
More than 1,450 previously undocumented people have received their papers since the programme launched, while 7,840 applications were made during the six-month scheme, according to data released by the Department of Justice to The Irish Times. This total included 640 applications made in the last week of the scheme alone.
The highest number of applications came from Brazilians (1,316), while 1,074 Pakistanis, 1,019 Chinese nationals, 725 Filipinos, 373 Nigerians, 253 Indians and 241 Bangladeshis also applied.
Some 207 Egyptians, 207 Malaysians and 193 Mauritians also applied for regularisation, along with 1,506 classified as “others”.
The scheme was open to those who had spent at least four years in the State without immigration status, or three years in the case of those with children.
Under a second strand of the programme, asylum seekers who had spent at least two years awaiting a decision on their international protection application were also entitled to apply for Stamp 4 permission to live and work in Ireland.
More than 2,350 applications have been made under this separate asylum strand which closed on Sunday, August 7th. Of these, 1,100 applicants have received permission to remain and work in Ireland, or an equivalent permission, according to justice figures.
Shieryl Onda, who has lived and worked in Ireland since 2015, discovered on May 12th her application for regularisation had been accepted. “There are no words to explain how I felt that day. I was happy, crying, we’d been hoping and praying for this for so many years.”
After years of campaigning for change through the Justice for the Undocumented group, the homecare worker from the Philippines submitted her application less than 24 hours after the Minister announced the launch of the regularisation scheme last January.
Onda has not seen her two sons – now 13 and 17 – in seven years. “It’s been really painful as a mother not being able to look after my own children. When I first arrived I cared for children so I was looking after my employer’s kids but not my own. I’m the eldest in my family, I have seven younger siblings, so I was the provider for my parents and family as well.”
She describes regularisation as a “huge change in my life. I can exercise all my rights that I prayed for for so many years. I used to be anxious every time I saw a Garda car but now I’m not afraid. That fear I had for so long is gone.”
Despite this relief, Onda worries about those who did not qualify for the scheme. “Some people had been here just under the four-year limit and didn’t get their papers. I’m blessed to be part of this scheme but I think the Government needs to do more.”
Mairéad McDevitt from the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI), which helped thousands to apply for the scheme, said it had been “life-changing” for many but said more than one in 10 of those who approached MRCI for support fell outside the scheme’s eligibility criteria. Others only heard about the scheme in the final days before it closed, while the high costs of fees were a “huge barrier for people”, she added.
It cost €550 for an individual to apply for the undocumented regularisation scheme and €700 for a family. Asylum seekers who applied for the parallel asylum strand were exempt from paying any fees.
Many of those who were not eligible had spent some time undocumented, and some time seeking asylum, but did not meet the threshold for either scheme, Ms McDevitt told The Irish Times. “The longer-term solution lies in building in mechanisms which can be triggered when a person reaches criteria similar to this scheme, so that no one is living long term in the shadows.”
Asked whether the Government plans to reopen the programme at a later date, a justice official said there were no plans to offer a similar scheme and that the past six months was a “once in a generation” opportunity.