'Bridging visa' plan for certain immigrants
Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern yesterday confirmed that foreign nationals from outside the European Economic Area who have become undocumented through no fault of their own would 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 legitimate 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 (ICTU) welcomed the introduction of the “bridging visa” which follows a commitment in the social partnership agreement Towards 2016 after campaigns by both groups.
The Government had previously signalled 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 says it could benefit thousands.
The organisation 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 unable to access social welfare even though they may have been making social insurance contributions.
In a statement, Mr Ahern insisted the programme was not a regularisation but a temporary scheme that would be issued only to a specific category of undocumented immigrant. It would 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.
“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.”
Ictu official Esther Lynch welcomed the scheme as a “necessary first step” that would help prevent the emergence of “a working underclass that is without”.
MRCI director Siobhán O’Donoghue, said the Government was “on the right path” towards fixing problems created by a poorly-designed immigration and work permit system. “But this is only the first step towards regularising the estimated 30,000 undocumented persons in Ireland, many of whom have similar stories to the undocumented Irish in the US.”