Asylum seekers: Government must show leadership

Generous approach essential in response to ruling that ban on asylum seekers taking paid work is unconstitutional

 

Eight months after the Supreme Court ruled that the absolute ban on asylum seekers taking paid work was unconstitutional, the Government is finally about to give effect to that landmark decision. But the manner in which it is proposing to do so raises concerns.

The Government’s response to the court ruling last summer was to announce it would opt into the EU’s Reception Conditions Directive, which commits states to allowing asylum seekers work and also includes important provisions on health, housing and education.

The court had initially suspended its declaration for six months to give the Government time to consider its response. In November, the Government asked the judges for more time so as to allow the opt-in to the Directive take legal effect, but the court demurred and ordered that the relevant law be struck down on February 9th.

That means there will be an interim period, estimated at up to four months, between the striking down of the Act and the coming into force of the EU Directive. In that period, the Department of Justice has announced, asylum seekers will be allowed to apply for work permits through the standard employment permit scheme for immigrants. But that scheme is heavily restricted. For example, applicants must secure a job that pays at least €30,000 a year and cannot apply for work in more than 60 different areas, including hospitality, healthcare or construction. It also comes with an application fee of up to €1,000.

The department has said that, once the Directive takes effect, access to the labour market for eligible asylum seekers will be “more generous” than under the work permit system. It certainly should be. It would be contrary to the spirit, if not also the letter, of both the Directive and the Supreme Court decision, for the State to circumscribe access to work this tightly.

The Government was forced by the courts to concede the principle. Now, in devising how the new regime will work in practice, it has an opportunity to show some leadership of its own.

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