An estimated 20,000 undocumented migrants in Ireland will be able to apply for a new regularization scheme from January 31. But is the application process itself too complicated? Fiona Hurley, policy and communications manager for the migrant and refugee rights association Nasc, spoke with InfoMigrants.
In a statement announcing the scheme, the Irish Minister for Justice Helen McEntee confirmed the starting date, adding that applications will be open for six months until 31 July 2021.
McEntee said she believed the scheme would "improve the lives of thousands of people across the country who contribute to our society, enrich our culture and work in our economy but unfortunately still live in the legal shadows."
Undocumented migrants who have been living in Ireland for at least four years, or three years in the case of those who have children, can apply.
Successful applicants will receive immigration permission, access to the labor market and can begin the path to citizenship. But the application process itself could provide challenges to many migrants, according to aid organizations.
Promising prospects: Security at work, access to healthcare
"This will be a life-changing scheme for thousands of people who are able to access the scheme," said Fiona Hurley, policy and communications manager for the migrant and refugee rights association Nasc, speaking with InfoMigrants.
"We’ve already received a call from a woman in tears of relief at the prospect of being able to regularize her status and travel outside of Ireland to see her family for the first time in years. We know that there are thousands of others like her who had an impossible choice of not seeing their family again or risk leaving Ireland and not being able to return."
Nasc points out that being able to leave the country is only one of many changes that migrants will experience once they are regularized. "It could also dramatically affect their working conditions," says Hurley.
"People might be working without permission to do so, which leaves them at much higher risk of workplace exploitation. They feel like they can’t make a complaint and that they don’t have any rights. They don’t feel like they can go to the Gardaí [Irish police] and report a crime without having their own situation examined."
Regularization also has the potential to impact on healthcare in the pandemic, as undocumented people are often reluctant to go to hospitals at any time and are potentially slow to come forward for COVID-19 tests or vaccination because they do not have official status.
"People who are currently undocumented are encouraged to go for tests and help with the pandemic, but they are still hesitant, they don't believe that their details won't be recorded, and it is difficult to convince them," says Hurley.
However, Hurley says the process is not without its complications.
Fees will apply to all applications and aid organizations warn that many undocumented migrants may find them challenging. They are set at €550 for single applicants and €700 per family application. Children up to 23 years of age who live with their parents can be included in a family application. Spouses and civil partners without children can apply as a family. There will also be a €300 registration fee for successful applicants.
"We are very concerned about the fees," says Hurley. "Not only is there the initial application cost, but then in addition, for all applicants over the age of 18, there is also a €300 fee for the Irish Residents Card. This means that if you are a family with two parents and an 18-year-old child, you are already facing a fee of at least €1,600."
Nasc is also concerned that people will struggle to fill out the applications themselves. They will require an ease with both the English language and use of computers.
Payment and accessibility
"NGOs like ourselves will be providing assistance, but the process is very complicated. You really require a good level of English and digital competency. You can’t apply for it through your smartphone, so you will need to have access to both a computer and a scanner to upload your documents," says Hurley.
Hurley highlights another significant challenge for applicants: making the payment. She points out that the fact that it is an online application means that people will have to have direct access to a bank card, which is not the case for many migrants.
"Another major issue with the application is that people must have either a debit or credit card to pay for it. We know that undocumented people are less likely to have access to a bank account, so this step is going to make it very difficult for a lot of people. We hope the Department of Justice will soon rectify this and propose alternative methods of payment."