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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Sam Boal/Rolling News Demonstrators in 2017 supporting undocumented workers.

Undocumented migrants need government schemes to gain access to services, says ESRI

‘In cases where a migrant’s residence becomes undocumented, care should be taken to ensure they are not afraid to access basic services.’

NEW RESEARCH FROM the ESRI and European Migration Network shows that undocumented migrants can experience difficulties accessing services in Ireland.

The research is part of an EU-wide study conducted by the European Migration Network (EMN), which is funded in Ireland by the European Union and the Department of Justice.

But the ESRI says that the recently introduced Regularisation of Long-Term Undocumented Migrants Scheme could significantly reduce the size of this group in Ireland.

Certain policy challenges remain, however, for those who do not regularise under this scheme and for future undocumented migrants.

Regularisation is one policy response to the issue of irregular migration, either on a case-by-case basis or in the form of collective regularisation programmes.

They may be introduced for humanitarian reasons — like in the case of victims of trafficking — or may respond to labour market needs, eg. focusing on workers only, or can be seen as a reward for contributing to the host society.

Ireland’s first scheme for undocumented former students was introduced in 2018 and just over 2,250 residence permissions were granted, according to the statement. 

The latest, the 2022 Regularisation of Long-Term Undocumented Migrants Scheme is open from 31 January until 31 July, and eligibility is broad.

Adults who have been undocumented in the state continuously for the previous four years are eligible to apply, and that’s reduced to three years for families with children.

A scheme covering International Protection applicants who have been in the process for at least two years was also launched in parallel.

Access to services

Undocumented migrants are not eligible for social housing, though they can access emergency healthcare and basic medical care with payment. NGOs indicated that access to more specialised health care is difficult for this group.

Access to mandatory education is universal, though previous research shows that fear of detection can lead to the underuse of public services.

The study found a lack of public service firewall provisions, guaranteeing that a person’s undocumented migration status will not be shared, which NGOs stress must be provided between migration authorities and the police, labour inspectors and social service providers.

A scheme like this was put in place during Covid, assuring undocumented migrants that they could avail of vaccination without fear of their details being shared with the migration authorities.

The EU level report shows that in many Member States, a tension exists between national-level policies which focus on reducing the scale of irregular migration and local-level government which provide services to individuals in need. In Ireland, access to homeless services for example may be decided on a case-by-case basis, responding to individual need, according to the statement. 

Group size

Most undocumented migrants in Ireland entered the country legally and later became undocumented. No official data exist on the size of this group, making estimates difficult. In 2020 the NGO, Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, estimated that there were 17,000 – 20,000 undocumented persons in the State, including 2,000 – 3,000 children.

Michał Polakowski, co-author of the study notes that “undocumented migrants are more likely to face material deprivation and are more vulnerable to exploitation and crime than legal residents.”

He added that the Regularisation of Long-Term Undocumented Migrants Scheme is an opportunity for undocumented migrants to join Irish society, live and work here legally, and access services.

“They may later apply for citizenship if they choose. However, undocumented stays are likely to continue in the future,” he said. 

“Going forward, it is important that all efforts are made to avoid people falling into this vulnerable situation. Also, in cases where a migrant’s residence becomes undocumented, care should be taken to ensure they are not afraid to access basic services.”

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