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'Out of reach': A month after landmark court ruling, no asylum seeker has applied for work permit here

Critics say the barriers that remain in place act as a deterrent for asylum seekers to get an employment permit.

Image: Laura Hutton/Rollingnews.ie

NOT ONE APPLICATION for an employment permit from an asylum seeker has been received by the Department of Business, one month on from a Supreme Court ruling granting such individuals the right to work.

On 9 February, the Supreme Court formally declared that the absolute ban on asylum seekers seeking employment is unconstitutional.

As of this week, however, not one application for an employment permit had been made, and Sinn Féin justice spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has accused the government of “setting a bar that is too high for those wishing to seek employment”.

Right to work

Last May, the Supreme Court found the ban on asylum seekers entering employment to be unconstitutional “in principle” last May and the cabinet agreed to lift the ban last November, in line with a European directive.

A formal declaration was then made by the Supreme Court last month, ending the ban.

Prior to last month, the ban on employment reduced asylum seekers to subsisting on a payment of €21.60 per week.

Earlier this month, TheJournal.ie reported that those seeking asylum may not have a legal basis for seeking either a driving licence or a learner permit. In many cases, particularly in rural Ireland, an inability to drive would make sustainable employment more than a little problematic.

Some groups, however, such as the Immigrant Council of Ireland, were critical of the restrictions that remain in place on employment for those seeking asylum.

The group decried the decision to restrict asylum seekers from looking for work in over 60 sectors (including retail and hospitality), the fact that up to €1,000 would have to be paid for a permit and the restriction to jobs with a minimum salary of €30,000.

Brian Killoran, CEO of the Immigrant Council, told TheJournal.ie: “Sadly we are not surprised by the lack of applications.

From a practical point of view, it takes time for people to learn of the new change, but as we and so many organisations working in the sector have said from the get-go, the administrative headache of the employment permit would act as a massive barrier for both those seeking work and employers themselves.

“It would be better for asylum seekers, Irish employers and Irish society if we relaxed the restrictions applied to asylum seekers wanting to work.

In a context of near-full employment it does not makes sense to include the long lists of impediments currently in place, including salary thresholds, sector restrictions and the costly requirement of an employment permit.
Even employer groups themselves, like the Restaurants Association of Ireland, would like to see a less cluttered route into the labour market.

‘No unreasonable constraints’

In its reply to a parliamentary question from Ó Laoghaire, Minister Heather Humphreys said: “From 9 February 2018 International Protection applicants have the right to apply for an employment permit. This is an interim measure until Ireland opts into the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive.

To date no applications for an employment permit have been received from International Protection applicants by my department.

Ó Laoghaire said that the lack of even one application in the month since it became legal was indicative of a system that deterred asylum seekers from gaining employment.

He said: “This is evidence to back up the assertion that the interim measures drafted by the department were a purposeful setting of a bar that is too high for those wishing to seek employment.

How asylum seekers have been treated by this State upon their arrival has been nothing short of disgraceful, and this reaffirms the states unwillingness to treat those who wish to work with respect, despite the landmark Supreme Court ruling last month.

He said that the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation should act now to reduce the barriers and ensure there are “no unreasonable constraints” to asylum seekers who want to work.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the department said that the government decided to “opt in” to the EU directive in January.

They said: “This opt-in enables formal discussions to commence with the EU Commission, a process which is expected to take 4 months to complete.

In the interim, arrangements have been put in place for the short period prior to opt-in, that will enable those seeking international protection to access the labour market through the Employment Permits Acts 2003 – 2014.  The same rules apply to any non-EEA national seeking access to the labour market as will apply to those seeking international protection.
As outlined, these are interim measures until the opt-in process is complete. Once this happens, access to the labour market for international applicants will be underpinned by EU law.

“Any person entering the workforce are subject to Irish employment laws and International Protection applicants will be no different in this regard.”

The Department of Justice, meanwhile, told TheJournal.ie that over 200 permissions had been granted for those seeking self-employment since the Supreme Court decision in February.

Read: ‘Since moving to Ireland I have been born again, I want to thank the country for that’

Read: Asylum seekers in Ireland can finally work, but it doesn’t look like they’re allowed drive to that work

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Sean Murray

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