Fishermen risk not qualifying for undocumented migrants scheme

Proposed scheme could exclude non-EEA workers, says ITF spokesman

Some migrant fishermen risk not being able to qualify for the Government's proposed regularisation scheme for undocumented migrants, the International Transport Federation (ITF) has warned.

Michael O'Brien, fisheries campaign lead for the ITF in Ireland, says he is worried about "apparent anomalies" in the Department of Justice's proposed regularisation scheme for the undocumented and says fishermen are concerned they may not be eligible if they have not been undocumented for an uninterrupted three to four years.

Information about the scheme released so far indicates migrant fishermen, who may have entered Ireland on the Atypical Working Scheme (AWS) but at some point are “cut loose” by the boat owner and end up working undocumented on other vessels, could be “excluded from the scheme”, Mr O’Brien said.

Those who continue to be documented under the AWS, which prohibits fishing crew working for anyone except the specific boat owner who arranges their permission to come to Ireland, should also be able to apply for Stamp 4 under the scheme, he added.


Mr O’Brien said a “significant cohort of men” who came to Ireland documented through AWS have since lost their employment, often because of injuries sustained while working. “They end up odd-jobbing for other boat owners. They’re half documented during their time in Ireland compared to those who are fully undocumented.

“We welcome the scheme but it raises the question as to why some undocumented will have a smooth path to getting a Stamp 4 while others may not.

“The perception now among fishers is some people will get a superior stamp even if they were less compliant with the law. They feel like they’re being leapfrogged.”

The AWS was introduced in 2016 to protect fishers from outside the European Economic Area. However, Mr O’Brien says non-compliance with the scheme is “endemic” in the fishing industry and that many non-EEA fishers continue to be forced to work “multiples of the average 39-hour week”.

‘Greater risk’

The annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report from the US State Department warned in July that foreign national sea fishers in Ireland "were at even greater risk" because the Government had "failed to enforce" the amended AWS rules.

It’s understood that not only fishers, but other migrants who may have been documented on a short-term or discretionary basis, have expressed concern about the Government’s proposed regularisation scheme.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said its objective was “to ensure the scheme is as inclusive as possible” and that officials had carried out a “wide-ranging public consultation” with undocumented migrant groups and representatives.

The department is still finalising the details of the scheme including “ eligibility considerations and qualifying criteria”, he said. “The specific qualifying criteria will be guided by, among other things, the learning from previous regularisation schemes, such as the 2018 Student Scheme, and schemes operated by other EU Member States.”

The spokesman confirmed the scheme would be open to applicants “by the end of the year”.

Asked how much funding was being put aside, he said the budget would depend on the volume of applications received.

One Egyptian fisherman, who is currently undocumented but previously worked on the Atypical scheme, said he was desperate to work legally so he can visit his sick three-year-old son in Egypt. The 30-year-old man, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, says he must remain in Ireland to work so he can pay his son's hospital bills.

“I have to work for too many hours here and they give you so little money but you can’t speak up because you’ll lose your job. I feel very bad right now. I can’t work legally but I have to care for my family. I don’t have any choice, I need to get the documentation.”

If he qualifies for the regularisation scheme, the man hopes to leave fishing and find work in construction. “I want to get that stamp so I can be free to work with any employer and visit my home.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast