FG urges stricter criteria for green card applications


THE GOVERNMENT should apply a labour market test to all future applications for green cards in light of the economic crisis, Fine Gael spokesman on immigration and integration Denis Naughten has said.

Mr Naughten said this would ensure that green cards – which mainly cover occupations with an annual salary of €60,000 or more – would only be issued to workers from outside the European Economic Area if the vacancy could not be filled from within the region.

He argued that while the number of applications for such cards was low – just 91 were issued last December – the rationale for applying a labour market test would be to show that the Government was “taking action on the basis of the changing circumstances of our economy”.

However, Mr Naughten said a review of the issuing of work permits to foreign nationals – as recently suggested by Fianna Fáil backbenchers Ned O’Keeffe and Noel O’Flynn – was unnecessary.

“The numbers involved are small. There isn’t a problem,” he said. “Two Fianna Fáil TDs came out and gave the perception that there’s a flood of people coming into this country. The reality is that the vast majority of people being issued with work permits and green cards at the moment are filling the high-skilled jobs within the economy.”

Unlike the green card scheme, a labour market test is already applied to any vacancy that is the subject of a work permit application to ensure the job cannot be filled by a European national. Work permits mainly cover non- green card occupations with salaries more than €30,000.

Mr Naughten described the immigration system in general as a “bureaucratic, disjointed nightmare” and said Minister for Integration Conor Lenihan had “delivered on nothing from a policy perspective”.

On the asylum system, he said the cost to the State had increased significantly in the past year, despite a fall in the number of people applying for refugee status.

This was due to a failure to deal with asylum claims “in an efficient and expedient manner”, with some people left waiting for several years for a decision on their application for leave to remain.

“I’ve come across cases of people waiting eight years after arriving in the country on a decision on their leave to remain application,” he remarked.

“There’s something fundamentally wrong in the system if someone is waiting that length of time. They’re in a legal limbo, clocking in the time. For anyone, that has to be soul-destroying and inhumane, to leave someone that length of time without giving them a decision one way or the other.”

Mr Naughten also criticised the Government for not introducing a “bridging visa” for migrants who had become undocumented through no fault of their own, despite indications last year that such a measure would be adopted.

“If there was one single thing that would help improve attitudes in relation to migrants, would help to improve integration, would help to show that Ireland is taking a responsible attitude to migration our own Irish in the States, it would be the bridging visa,” Mr Naughten said.

While there was concern negative attitudes towards immigrants would be more prevalent with high unemployment, he added, it was vital that immigrants be portrayed as critical to the recovery rather than part of the problem.