The Supreme Court has acknowledged that it is a matter for the Executive to determine immigration policy. However, it found that in a system where there is no limit on the timeframe within which an application for international protection is determined, the applicants’ constitutional rights would be breached. The Government responded to the Supreme Court decision by agreeing to opt in to the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive. This will allow effective labour market access for applicants who have not received a first instance decision within nine months of their application. Opting into the Directive is a very positive development for the entire protection system and for applicants and their families while they await a final decision on their application. In addition to labour market access, the Directive also includes important provisions in relation to children’s rights, health, education and material reception conditions for applicants, which includes housing, food, clothing and a daily expenses allowance.
During the opt-in process with the EU which we expect to have completed in June, interim arrangements have been put in place. When the Supreme Court struck down the law prohibiting labour market access, international protection applicants, as a category of non-EEA nationals, came under the terms of the Employment Permits Act 2003 (as amended). Under that Act, third country nationals can apply for an employment permit in certain sectors defined by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. Employment permit fees apply, set by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (these are generally paid by wholly or partly by employers). I also introduced a complementary self-employment scheme for eligible applicants (those in the system for over nine months without a first instance decision) – Ireland being one of very few European countries allowing such access. The total number of Self Employment applications received to date is 584, of which 399 have been granted.
I would stress that this interim scheme is designed to be of very short duration until the opt-in process into the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive is completed. The process of compliance is on course to be completed within the expected timeframe. Once this happens, access to the labour market will be underpinned by EU law and I will have the opportunity to propose to Government a new scheme allowing effective access to the labour market. I expect that this permanent scheme will provide for a broader access to the labour market for qualified applicants – the details of which are well advanced and will be announced in the coming weeks.
I am confident that this progressive approach by Government, which for the first time will see additional elements of our protection process subject to EU law and verification by the EU Commission, will be a further major effective and reforming step as we seek to improve the standards of our reception conditions and efficient determination of protection applications.