Refugee groups give mixed response to work scheme for asylum seekers
Many awaiting decisions on refugee status now entitled to apply for jobs in most sectors
Participants in the Diageo Ireland Learning for Life Programme display their certificates at a special graduation ceremony which took place in the Guinness Storehouse earlier this month. Photograph: Kenneth O Halloran.
Refugee support groups have welcomed new measures which open the Irish labour market to asylum seekers but have raised concerns that people must wait nine months after their arrival in the State before applying for jobs.
The directive, which was announced by the Government on Wednesday and comes into force this weekend, means asylum seekers will be entitled to apply for work in all sectors of employment except An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces or the public and civil service.
Nick Henderson, of the Irish Refugee Council, called for “careful monitoring” of the reduction or removal of the weekly €21.60 direct provision allowance once an asylum seeker secures a job, saying people would need time to gather savings and develop social networks.
He also expressed disappointment that only those who have waited more than nine months for a decision on their asylum application would be able to access the labour market and the fact that people who had already received a decision, or had appealed that decision, would not be eligible to work under the scheme.
Pippa Woolnough, of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, said the announcement was evidence that the Government had listened to the requests of civil society but warned of pre-existing delays within the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) in distributing work permits. She also criticised the Government for not allowing asylum seekers to apply for a driving licence.
Fiona Finn, of the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, welcomed the removal of the earnings requirement, permit fees for applicants and ineligible employment categories from the new scheme which, she said, demonstrated “the State’s commitment to treat asylum seekers with dignity and respect”.
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 so she could save money for the future.
She said that eventually she would like to find work in the area she studied in university, psychology.
“We just want to keep our brains busy and live a normal life. We have been waiting for our interview for two years and we haven’t been able to work any kind of job,” she said. “The next thing is getting a licence to drive because we live so far from the city and transport is very expensive.”
Othello Obaro, an IT engineer from Nigeria, said that after more than four years in direct provision, the new job scheme was “like a dream come true”.
He had tried applying for work following the announcement of the new directive in February but failed to secure a position without a work permit.
“Now I’m going straight there tomorrow to apply for my work permit so when companies ask do you have the right to work I can say ‘yes’.”
Liam Reid, of Diageo Ireland, said the company was looking forward to helping the asylum seekers who graduated from its Learning for Life programme earlier this month to secure work.
The programme offered hospitality training over eight weeks to 22 participants from Mosney direct provision centre ahead of the Government’s access to work scheme. Diageo had worked closely with the Department of Justice on the programme and was confident the ban on asylum seekers’ right to work would be fully lifted by June, said Mr Reid.
“We understood the right to work created a real physical and social network for participants. It’s not just a job, it’s the ability to engage in a much more meaningful way in the community.”
Mr Reid said Diageo planned to expand the programme to other centres around the State in the coming months.
“We think there’s a value there for the hospitality sector. They have a big worker shortage and this can contribute to more numbers.”