Filipino workers here seek visa reforms

 

Filipino workers in Ireland are seeking family-friendly reforms to the work isa regime for high-skilled migrant workers.

Representatives of Filipino nurses, who are by far the largest category of non-Europeans holding work visas here, say the regulations are forcing families to live apart for months.

Some 2,500 nationals of the south eastern Asian archipelago have been granted work visas in the past two years in Ireland, with many recruited as nurses to fill acute shortages in hospitals.

While holders of work visas can bring their spouses with them to Ireland, the partners do not have the automatic right to take up work here, as they do in the UK, but are issued with dependant visas which do not allow them to work.

If they can find an employer to apply for a one-year work permit for them, they can apply to the Department of Justice to have their visa status changed.

Filipino workers say this system is cumbersome and unnecessarily bureaucratic. Ms Eden Bonifacio has worked as a nurse in Loughlinstown Hospital in Dublin for six months, but says she is not able to invite her young family to join her as she fears her husband would have difficulty finding work.

"It's easy to get a dependant visa but I've heard from other nurses that it's hard to get a work permit and I couldn't afford to have my family here if my husband was not able to work," she said.

Like many other Filipino nurses working in Ireland, Ms Bonifacio can afford to return home only once a year. Most live in shared accommodation paying monthly rents of about €300 per person.

Mr Joselito Mercado, an engineer whose wife Eladia is a staff nurse, said he is frustrated by the difficulties in finding work in the month since he arrived. "I am looking for any kind of job to get money, but employers won't accept you without a work permit," he said. "They say if you had a work permit you could start tomorrow, but it would take four to six months to get a permit and they want workers as soon as possible and are not interested if they have to wait."

Mr Mercado, who gave up a job in the Middle East to come to Ireland, now cares for the couple's two-year-old son, Benjamin Joss. Because they rely on Eladia's income, they have no choice but to share accommodation with seven other nurses.

The chaplain of the Filipino community in Ireland, Father Pat O'Connell, recently met a special adviser to the Tánaiste, whose Department administers work visas, to press for changes to bring the Irish system in line with the UK. There the partners of migrant workers are automatically entitled to work on an unrestricted basis, a Home Office spokesman said.

"It's working in the North and Britain. It's unfair that we solve our healthcare problems at the cost of Filipino families," Father O'Connell said.

A spokesman for the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment said there was " an ongoing review of immigration procedures by the Department of Justice and we keep our own procedures under review. It was agreed that the matter would be looked at in this context."