Right to work for asylum seekers after 6 months, council urges

Measure would ‘prevent economic and social exclusion’ and increase tax take

Ellie Kisyombe, from Dublin, at a United Against Racism rally and march calling for the end to the inhumane direct provision system for asylum seekers, in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

People in the asylum process should have the right to work after six months in the country, the Irish Refugee Council has said.

In a policy paper, The Right to Work for International Protection Applicants, the council also recommends there should be no restrictions placed on what jobs asylum seekers should be allowed to do.

It said the right to work could prevent economic and social exclusion, aid integration and improve mental health. It could also increase tax revenue for the State, fill gaps in the labour market and increase consumer spending.

The council released its policy paper following a Supreme Court decision in May that the absolute ban on working imposed on asylum seekers was "in principle" unconstitutional.


The seven-member court found that work was connected to the dignity and freedom of individuals and the complete ban was not justified. It adjourned the case for six months without making any formal orders, to allow Government to consider how to address the situation.


The majority of people now in direct provision have spent an average of 29 months there. They are housed in centres around the country and receive three meals a day and medical care, along with an allowance of €21.60 per week. They are not allowed to work in Ireland regardless of how long they have waited for a final decision on whether they will be allowed to remain in the country.

In its policy paper, the Irish Refugee Council, a non-governmental organisation, recommended the right to work after six months should be automatic, with no need for an application process, if no decision on a person’s application had been made within that time. Permission should also continue throughout the asylum procedure, including through any appeals process.

It said Ireland was one of only two EU countries that did not provide the right to work to applicants seeking the protection of the State. It also said restricting the right to work only to certain professions or sectors “may undermine the essence of the constitutional right itself”.

The council denied suggestions that allowing asylum seekers to work would encourage more people to come to Ireland. It said studies showed there was “no long-term correlation between labour market access and destination choice”.

Nick Henderson, chief executive of the council, said a person who applied for asylum today may not be interviewed for 18 months.

“This is unacceptable and contrary to the narrative that decision-making is speeding up,” he said.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist