Asylum seekers face obstacles joining workforce despite Government move

Background: Numbers seeking permits expose flaws in Government scheme

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan set out a new system under which asylum seekers apply to the Department of Justice for work permits. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

It is more than a year since the Supreme Court deemed the ban on asylum seekers joining the workforce as unconstitutional.

Before this, Ireland was one of only two European Union states that had imposed such a rigid and discriminatory policy.

The decision of the Supreme Court embarrassed the Government into action and, under significant pressure, it established a haphazard scheme.

Initially, asylum seekers were informed they must secure a job that pays a starting salary of at least €30,000 per year in order to access the workforce.


In addition, they were told they could not work in more than 60 fields including hospitality, food, healthcare, social work, childcare, marketing, administration, textiles, printing, housekeeping and construction.

Not one single work permit was issued under that original scheme.

In June, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan set out a new system under which applicants apply to the Department of Justice, rather than the Department of Business, for work permits. It also lifted most restrictions on the types of work they could seek.

It came with a number of requirements, though, including the necessity to be in the State for nine months or more and to have not had a first decision made on an applicant’s refugee status.

The result of this was that many asylum seekers who are appealing decisions on their status cannot seek work. It also means those who have been in direct provision the longest are excluded.

The fee for gaining a work permit, previously €1,000, has been waived since July 1st but asylum seekers must 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labour market and have been working for over 12 weeks, their direct provision allowance of €21.60 will be reduced or withdrawn.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 is also a requirement for those asylum seekers in employment to make a contribution towards their direct provision accommodation.

Social welfare

Access to social welfare payments will also be permitted to those who find employment “subject to satisfying the qualifying conditions”.

The figures released by the Department of Justice to The Irish Times highlighted the significant numbers of asylum seekers who wish to seek employment. A total of 560 people have successfully made an application since July 1st.

An additional 403 applicants who were granted a self-employment permission during the interim temporary scheme and were automatically issued a new permission letter, as they had not received a first instance recommendation on their protection application.

Needless to say, the administering of a work permit does not automatically result in asylum seekers accessing employment. Many employers are reluctant to take on employees who must renew their application for work every six months.

There are also obstacles facing those who wish to set up a bank account as they cannot secure a driving licence in this country and some do not have access to their passports.

The figures also show 326 asylum seekers sought a work permit but were refused because of ineligibility.

While the numbers highlight the interest many asylum seekers in gaining employment, they also expose the flaws that the Government’s scheme contains.

The State has a responsibility to review whether the existing barriers should remain in place into the future.