Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ceisteanna (11, 18)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will extend the right to work to all asylum seekers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47834/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

18. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of asylum seekers who would be eligible to work under the programme available to them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47833/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Justice)

Until May 2017, the Government operated a complete ban on the right of asylum seekers to look for employment and contribute to our society. That ban was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2017. The limited right to work the Government introduced as a result of the Supreme Court case has left the vast majority of asylum seekers either without the right to employment or facing so many obstacles to securing employment that it is effectively of no use to them. Does the Minister recognise that fact? Does he agree that we would solve many problems and much hardship if he gave a right to work to all asylum seekers?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 18 together.

I thank the Deputy for his questions. Article 15(2) of the EU recast reception conditions directive allows member states to decide the conditions for granting access to the labour market for applicants for international protection, in accordance with national law. The European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018, which were signed into effect on 30 June 2018, include access to the labour market for qualified international protection applicants. The regulations provide access to both employment and self-employment in all sectors and categories of employment with the exception of the Civil Service and public service, An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. There are no restrictions on the type of work or the level of income possible. Under the regulations, international protection applicants will have access to the labour market nine months from the date on which their protection application was lodged, if they have not yet received a first instance recommendation from the International Protection Office and if they have co-operated with the process. Applicants must have made reasonable efforts to establish their identity and, on commencement of employment, they must register with the Revenue Commissioners and be tax compliant. Providing access to the labour market where a person is waiting more than nine months without a first instance recommendation is in full compliance with the provisions of the directive. It recognises that, where a person does not have clarity on his or her status in the State within this period, it is reasonable to allow that person to access the labour market.

The access provided for in Ireland is broad and generous with almost no restrictions. The system as it prevails is a fair one and allows protection applicants to seek employment after a reasonable period from the time they apply for protection in the State. A balance must be struck because the intention is not to turn the asylum system into a pathway for economic migration as this would not be fair to those fleeing persecution or to those who migrate to Ireland to work using the appropriate immigration channels. However, it has always been intended to review the system to determine if it is meeting the needs of applicants for protection and their potential employers. This is an appropriate time to do so as the system has been in operation for more than a year. In that regard, a high level interdepartmental group is reviewing the implementation of the State's obligations under the EU reception conditions directive, including access to work and the direct provision of services offered to applicants while their applications are being made. I expect to receive a report within days from the interdepartmental group.

With regard to eligibility, as of 31 October 2019, there were 2,429 international protection applicants aged 16 years or over who were waiting nine months or more for a first instance recommendation on their international protection claim. All may apply for a labour market access permission, subject to meeting the eligibility criteria.

This does not make sense. We have labour shortages in a large number of areas, from the health service to special needs education, childcare and construction. I could go through a list. Despite this, thousands of people who are forced to live in fairly inhumane conditions in direct provision centres, many of them in isolated areas, want to work but cannot do so. This does not make sense for them or for society. Why should applicants be forced to wait nine months and why does this apply only in the case of a first application? It should be remembered that many of the people who get the right to asylum in this country have previously been refused in the first application. The particular case which led the Supreme Court to strike down the Department's ban on employment for asylum seekers involved a man who had been in direct provision for eight years. He was a member of what we know to be a persecuted group, the Rohingya, who subsequently got the right to stay but was forced to exist in direct provision for eight years. Rather than forcing people into the isolation, stigma and hardship of direct provision centres, why does the Department not give them the right to work and make it easy for them to contribute to and benefit society? I am glad that a review is upcoming. I hope the Minister of State will take serious steps to address the many obstacles asylum seekers face, including their inability to get driving licences and their isolation from transport services caused by the location of the direct provision centres. He should examine these issues and recognise that these are people who could and want to make a contribution to our society.

The Deputy thrives on misery. Some 3,438 labour market permissions have been granted to date. That is a huge number. I reject totally out of hand the Deputy's assertions that people are forced to live anywhere or that conditions are inhumane. That is terrible language to use for people who are coming here looking for international protection. That is not true and the Deputy should reconsider his use of that kind of language.

There are people who are working and we are on the brink of making changes to the system. We are taking this matter very seriously. It is very important for people to be able to work because if they get permission to remain here, they will be able to work here and will have built up skills. If they do not get permission to remain and have to leave the country, they will be able to bring those skills back to where they came from. Everybody wins in that regard. This is a successful scheme. We are working to improve it and we will do so.

It is inhumane to have children living in hostels or hotels, where their mothers or fathers cannot cook dinner for them, for years on end. It is inhumane for asylum seekers and people in family emergency homeless hubs. "Inhumane" is not an unreasonable word to use in this regard. A more important term again is "totally unnecessary". I hope the Minister of State will recognise, as he has failed to do so far, that those who have been given the right to work face many obstacles, including public transport difficulties and problems getting driving licences. All of these barriers mean that even those who want to get to work, and who have the right to do so, find it difficult. Many people who have been in the system for longer and whose cases are under appeal are completely denied the right to work. Why would the Government deny them the right to work rather than allowing them to make a dignified contribution to society?

We have made huge improvements to the system. I invite the Deputy to look at those improvements. More than half of the people in centres can now cook for their families and are doing so. They are living in much-improved conditions as a result of the findings in the McMahon report. I invite the Deputy to look at what has been done and to start using positive language in respect of asylum seekers and those seeking international protection rather than the negative verbiage that is coming out all of the time.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.