Group calls on Minister to widen scheme for undocumented workers

Plans to regularise status may see thousands of migrants and their children excluded

A coalition of 25 business, trade union and civil society organisations has written to Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys expressing their "deep concern" that thousands of undocumented workers and their children could be "excluded" from a forthcoming scheme to regularise their status.

Under the plan, due to go to Cabinet in coming weeks and open for applications before Christmas, migrants who have been continuously undocumented for four years – or for three years for those who have children here – will be eligible for regularisation.

It comes more than a decade after Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) began its Justice for the Undocumented campaign, and has been broadly welcomed as a measure that will "transform the lives of thousands of people".

Its restriction, however, to migrants who have been continuously undocumented for three or four years excludes thousands who, for example, have been in Ireland on student visas or work permits for many years but who became undocumented in the last two years.


It could also exclude those who have been undocumented for many years, but who managed to secure temporary permission for a few months thereby interrupting their undocumented time.


Supporting the call for a more flexible, inclusive scheme, Ian Talbot, chief executive of Chambers Ireland, said: "Ireland needs workers right now across a variety of sectors. Here we have a cohort of workers who have continued to work all through the pandemic. It makes no sense to exclude some undocumented people from this scheme and leave them to continue working in the shadows."

Among those facing exclusion is "Alejo" (40), from South Africa, who has been in Ireland for 10 years.

Having studied here, on both student and graduate visas, she has a degree in business administration, a diploma in IT and a healthcare qualification. Her graduate visa, however, expired two years ago, meaning she “cannot work in the career of my choice” (she works as a homecare assistant) and she has been unable to go home to see her now four-year-old daughter since 2019.

“My concern is if this scheme is not inclusive enough I will be devastated. I have been working very hard to pay all the taxes... even during the pandemic I kept on going.

“If I am excluded I will have to keep on hiding, doing the same job. I cannot reunite with my family back home.”


Asked whether she has considered just leaving and going back to South Africa, she says: “Sometimes, but if I go home where am I going to start? I have invested so much time here, spent so many years.”

In its letter the coalition, which includes Chambers Ireland, the Mandate trade union, the Restaurants Association of Ireland and the Children’s Rights Alliance, says: “In its current form [the scheme] could potentially leave thousands of people behind and force them to continue living in the shadows. It is critical that you as Minister ensure the Department of Justice amend the criteria to include as many undocumented people as possible.”

Patricia King, general secretary of Ictu, said the scheme had the potential "to protect all undocumented workers from exploitation, and enable people to stand up for their rights".

“But right now we are leaving some people behind when they can be easily included in this scheme.”

The coalition is calling on Ms Humphreys to amend the proposed scheme to include people who are undocumented but have been in Ireland less than three or four years, and people who are undocumented more than three of four years but were documented for some of that time.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times