Asylum seekers who secure work following the lifting of a ban on their gaining employment will be asked to pay a contribution towards their accommodation in the direct provision system, the Department of Justice has said.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan yesterday confirmed the ban had been removed for those who have been in the State for nine months or more and have not had a first decision made on their refugee status.
This means many asylum seekers who are appealing decisions on their status will not be eligible to seek work. However, the department estimates some 3,000 of the more than 5,300 people in the system will benefit.
At present, it takes an average of 19 months just to be interviewed about refugee status and, as of last month, 723 asylum seekers had been waiting three years or more on their applications or appeals.
Refugee support groups welcomed the measures but raised concerns both about people having to wait nine months before applying for jobs and about the fact those who had received or appealed decisions on their refugee status were being excluded.
Gaby Patino from Venezuela, who has lived in a direct provision centre with her boyfriend in Cork for nearly two years, said she was relieved to hear the news and hoped to find a job in a shop in order to save money for the future.
She said she would eventually like to find work in her area of study, psychology.
“We just want to keep our brains busy and live a normal life,” she said. “We have been waiting for our interview for two years and we haven’t been able to work any kind of job.”
The directive, which will come into the force this weekend, will mean asylum seekers will be required to make an application to the department to seek permission to enter the labour market. There will be no fee but asylum seekers will have to renew the application every six months to ensure they remain eligible.
If a person is granted permission to access the labour market and have been working for over 12 weeks, their direct provision allowance of €21.60 will be reduced or withdrawn. There will be a requirement on those in employment to make a contribution towards their direct provision accommodation.
The directive is a significant advance on the previous scheme outlined by the Government, which required asylum seekers to secure a job paying a starting salary of at least €30,000 per year, and prevented them from working in 60 different sectors such as hospitality, healthcare, social work, childcare, marketing, housekeeping and construction. Such earning requirements have been lifted.
In future there will be few restrictions on the type of employment available with the exception of jobs in the civil and public service, An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and embassies accredited to the State.
Mr Flanagan said he did not envisage offering employers incentives to recruit asylum seekers , while Minister of State at the department David Staunton said businesses were ahead of the politicians on this issue and were eager to open to their doors to asylum seekers.
Access to social welfare payments will also be permitted to those who find employment “subject to satisfying the qualifying conditions”.