Case study: The children of undocumented migrant workers

Amanthi (18): ‘We’d like to pay taxes properly and want to progress. It’s wasted potential’

Amanthi, a bright, chatty 18-year-old from the Indian subcontinent, is joking about how much she feels at home in Ireland.

“I was away in Kilkenny for a few days. It was very nice and everything, but all I wanted to do was to get home. Home to Dublin,” she says.

“It’s where I went to school since I was eight. It’s where all my friends live . . . It’s shaped how I think and view the world . . . If you ask me where home is, it’s here.”

Ireland may be where she feels she belongs . But in the eyes of the law, she’s an illegal immigrant.


Amanthi is one of an estimated 20,000-26,000 undocumented migrants living and working here.

Of these, about 6,000 are the children of migrants and have grown up here.

Amanthi came here more than a decade ago with her mother and father. They, like most undocumented workers, arrived on visas during the boom and ended up overstaying.

They are still living and working here, paying taxes and putting down roots. But life feels precarious. That’s because they face a range of obstacles in areas such as health, education and travel.

Just like the undocumented Irish in the US, they are cut off from visiting their extended families.

If they become unemployed, they aren’t entitled to social security. In the health system, they may face significant bills for treatment.

Many are reluctant to report crimes to gardaí.

Biggest obstacle

But the biggest obstacle of all, Amanthi says, is access to education. While she attended primary and secondary school here without any problem, third-level is effectively blocked off because the rules on access are citizenship-based.

Amanthi completed her Leaving Certificate in 2013 and would love to study biochemistry. But she’s not an Irish citizen, so she isn’t entitled to “free” fees.

Neither is she an EU citizen, which would entitle her to discounted fees.

Instead, she’s regarded as an international student, so the cost of a college place is in the region of €15,000 a year.

“We could never afford that,” she says.

While her friends have progressed on to third-level, she’s taken a part-time job in the shadow economy.

She’s also involved in a campaign group, Young, Paperless and Powerful, made up of undocumented young people who want to regularise their status.

The group recently made a powerful video on the anxieties, frustrations and resilience of young people stuck in limbo and hoping for change.

“We’re not looking for handouts,” Amanthi says. ”We just want to get back into the system and work towards citizenship.”

Proposals being considered by the Department of Justice recommend a one-off, timebound regularisation scheme.

The document, drawn up by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, notes that 15 years of inward migration have occurred in the absence of a coherent legal framework.

It says regularisation has the potential to generate up to €185 million over five years in registration fees and an increased tax take.


It would also add credibility to the Government’s campaign to agree a regularisation programme for undocumented Irish in the US.

The department has traditionally opposed amnesties or programmes of this nature, preferring to deal with individuals on a case by case basis.

But the document’s authors say that, unlike an amnesty, the proposals bar anyone with a criminal record from taking part and include a two-year probation period.

For people like Amanthi, the advantages of the proposals are simple. Failing to take action, she says, would simply be a waste of talent.

“All these people who could benefit are already here. We’d like to pay taxes properly and we want to progress. It’s just wasted potential if people like me aren’t able to work and study.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent