My Department is responsible for offering accommodation and related services to international protection applicants while their claim for protection is being examined. As of 8 September 2019, 7,306 persons were being provided with accommodation by my Department. Currently, there are 6,056 persons residing in the 38 accommodation centres located nationwide. As the centres are at full capacity, there are also a further 1,250 applicants residing in 33 emergency accommodation locations in hotels and guest houses.
In terms of the right to work, holders of a labour market access permission already have a very broad and generous access to employment and self-employment. Eligible applicants have access to all sectors of employment, with the exception of the Civil and Public Service, An Garda Síochána, the Irish Defence Forces and Embassies or consulates accredited to the State. The exclusion of these employments is largely due to their requirement for long-term residence in the State or EU/EEA citizenship. There is no minimum or maximum salary threshold associated with the permission, no language requirement/assessment, and no evidence of a job offer is required before a permission is granted. There is no restriction with regard to temporary or permanent jobs, nor to full-time or part-time work.
The Government is committed to reducing the time that it takes to process applications for international protection. This is to ensure that we can identify at the earliest possible stage those who are in need of our protection and those who can safely return to their country of origin.
We provide access to the labour market if a person is waiting more than nine months without a first instance recommendation on their application. This is in full compliance with the provisions of the current EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive. Where a person does not have clarity on their status in the State within this period, it is reasonable to allow them to access the labour market.
A High Level Interdepartmental Group has been established in my Department, chaired by one of our Deputy Secretary Generals, to review the Direct Provision system in its entirety, including the interaction between labour market participation and the Direct Provision system. We are mapping a plan for immediate improvements and for medium to long-term transitional change.
Last month, we published agreed National Standards for accommodation centres. The Standards will apply to all service providers contracted by the Department to operate and manage accommodation centres. They provide a framework for the continued development of services and supports for residents by improving the quality of care and ensuring consistency across the centres.