*Update: An important ruling by the Supreme Court on Tuesday 29th May 2017 will have significant consequences for asylum seekers and right to work going forward. The Government is currently considering options in response to the ruling. See below for further information.
In Ireland, asylum seekers are not allowed to work while they are in the asylum and protection process.
Due to lengthy delays in the Irish system, people can spend up to 10 years living in Direct Provision, not allowed to support themselves or access the labour market.
Ireland’s ban on employment is known to cause considerable additional integration challenges for current & former asylum seekers, while also contributing to social exclusion and poor mental health issues.
Download: Asylum Seeker’s Right to Work
Supreme Court ruling (29th May 2017):
- A landmark ruling on 29th May 2017 could have significant consequences for asylum seekers and the right to work in Ireland. Read the full decision here: Supreme Court ruling
- The Court has been adjourned for six months (from May 2017) to allow the legislature time to respond.
- Analysis of and background to the ruling and right to work issues in Ireland: Human Rights in Ireland blog (Liam Thornton)
Background to the ruling:
- Supreme court considers an appeal from a Burmese national, who spent eight years living in Direct Provision before he received refugee status. (January 2017)
- European Database of Asylum Law (EDAL) case summary
(N.H.V. and F.T. v. The Minister for Justice and Equality (Respondent) and the Irish Human Rights Commission (Notice Party)  IEHC 246, 17 April 2015)
- EDAL post, comment on the case by Maria Hennessy, Legal officer at Irish Refugee Council
- Link to Irish Times article
Do other countries allow asylum seekers to work?
Yes. Ireland is one of only two EU member states to ban asylum seekers from working – the other country is Lithuania.
Almost all EU member states (26 countries in the EU) allow asylum seekers to work after a number of months.
The EU ‘Reception Conditions Directive’ sets out minimum standards of reception conditions for asylum applicants, including access to the labour market and vocational training nine months after making their application.
Ireland has not opted in to the EU Reception Conditions Directive because of the requirement to allow asylum seekers access to the labour market. Ireland’s position has long been that allowing asylum seekers the right to work would create a “pull factor”, whereby we witness an increase in asylum applications due to the more favourable conditions.
The Working Group on Direct Provision & Supports to Asylum Seekers (McMahon report)
- A key recommendation of the McMahon report was the introduction of employment rights for asylum seekers in Ireland. Recommendations 5.49 (Page 213, McMahon report) reads as follows:”The Working Group recommends:• Provision for access to the labour market for protection applicants who are awaiting a first instance decision for nine months or more and who have co-operated with the protection process (under the relevant statutory provisions), should be included in the International Protection Bill and should be commenced when the single procedure is operating efficiently. This recommendation takes account of the fact that, under the current statutory arrangements, first instance decisions in respect of refugee status and subsidiary protection do not (in the normal course) issue within nine months at present.• Any permission given to access the labour market should continue until the final determination of the protection claim.
• A protection applicant who has the right to access the labour market and is successful in finding employment, and who wishes to remain in Direct Provision, should be subject to a means test to determine an appropriate contribution to his/ her accommodation and the other services provided to him/her.”
Despite the above recommendations by the Government’s Working Group, Ireland introduced legislation at end of 2015 that upholds the ban on employment, under the International Protection Act. In the interim report on the implementation of the recommendations, published in February 2017, the Government claimed that the recommendation on the right to work for asylum seekers is not being progressed. See Progress on McMahon report for more information.
Irish research on impact of employment ban (external links):
- Barriers to labour market for refugees and persons with leave to remain in Limerick (Doras Luimní, 2008)
- Counting the Cost: Barriers to Employment After Direct Provision (Irish Refugee Council, 2014)
- Transition: from Direct Provision to life in the Community (UCD, TCD, Irish Refugee Council, 2016)
- Evaluating the Right to Work (JRS, February 2015)
Opinion poll in June 2015
A public opinion poll was undertaken by ‘The Journal.ie’ in June 2015, at the time of the publication of the Working Group/ McMahon report (see below).
The question posed to the public was as follows: “Should long-term asylum seekers be allowed to work?”
The poll showed that 55% of people support the right to work, versus 38% who do not.
Link to article and poll results: Should long-term asylum seekers be allowed to work?
European Research & Best Practice
- “Quick labour market integration can unlock the potential economic benefits of the refugee inflow. It would also minimise the risk of social exclusion for the newcomers and maximise their net contribution to the public finances in the longer term.”
Read full report here: The Refugee Surge in Europe: Economic Challenges (International Monetary Fund, January 2016).
- European research on the integration of refugees into the labour market recommends that asylum seekers and refugees should integrated into the labour market as soon as possible, with targeted strategies and supports. The research suggests that it takes 15 to 20 years for refugees to reach the same employment rate as native workers.
Read full report and summary findings here: From Refugees to Workers. Mapping Labour-Market Integration Support Measures for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in EU Member States (Migration Policy Centre, 2016).
- “On EU average, it took between five and six years to integrate more than 50 % of asylum seekers and refugees into the workplace, even where countries allowed asylum seekers to work shortly after arrival in EU countries.”
Read full report here: Labour Market Integration of Refugees (EMPL, 2016).
- “Enterprising refugees create jobs. In Britain new-comers are twice as likely to start businesses than locals. In Australia, refugees are the most entrepreneurial migrants. Investing one euro in welcoming refugees can yield nearly two euros in economic benefits within five years.”
Read full report here: Refugees Work: A humanitarian investment that yields economic dividends (Philippe Legrain, May 2016).