19th June 2024


Migrants of Ireland

I came to Ireland many years ago as a documented migrant. Like me, thousands of migrant workers came here to work and build a new life for their families.

They came because they were needed by the Irish economy.

They came because they had skills that were needed in this country.

They came because they wanted to work.

They came for some of the – many of the – reasons why Irish immigrants went to other countries.

Some settled here. They have become part of Irish life. Others moved on, to other countries, or they went back home when jobs here became scarce.

And some, whatever their reasons may be, whatever the cause, were caught in-between. They neither settled here nor could can they go back home: They are the undocumented migrants of Ireland.

Alan Desmond, University of Leicester pointed out,

“There are tens of millions of irregular migrants right across the globe. Such migrants, also referred to as undocumented are people who are present without permission in a state whose citizenship they do not possess. In many ways, irregular migration is a result of states’ failure to provide adequate routes for legal migration.”

Voices of undocumented migrants of Ireland echo the voices of undocumented Irish in the US

On a bitter cold December Night in 2013, a large group of migrants had gathered at the gates of Dáil Éireann for a 24-hour vigil organised by Migrants Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI). These were some of the – then – estimated between 26,000 and 30,000 undocumented migrants trying to make their voices heard by the Fine Gael / Labour Government of that time. The Vigil of Hope was held to highlight difficulties facing undocumented migrants.

Similar to the Irish undocumented in the US, most of these migrants are caught in a limbo situation where they are afraid to return home for family occasions and funerals in case they are not allowed back into Ireland.

Many had been with the same employer for several years and, interestingly, many have been paying income tax and PRSI through their employment.

Some had come to Ireland on the promise of work permits, some hoping they could find work legally and some who hoped to wait it out long enough to be granted citizenship.

Researchers had  found that many undocumented obtained PPS numbers after arriving in Ireland on foreign student schemes which also allowed them to work and can last for up to seven years. However, when the scheme ended they remained here and continued working.

The MRCI had been pushing the government to provide a pathway which would allow the undocumented to regularise their immigration status – similar to what successive Irish governments have been lobbying for in the US. Indeed, all Irish Governments have been calling for the US to help the Irish undocumented in America while offering no hope to undocumented people in Ireland.

Every migrant has a story

Speaking to the press Jayson had been in Ireland for nearly 10 years. In that time, he had worked to support his three children and sick father. 

“I have three kids and cannot afford to give them a good future in the Philippines. I haven’t seen them in 10 years. My kids have grown up without me and I can’t leave Ireland to visit them as I would be unable to re-enter the country.”

At the vigil, a number of migrants had told the crowd emotional stories about being away from home and family for long stretches for fear of being refused re-entry into the State. Others had sang songs and played music.

“We are already part of Irish life”, had said one migrant.

“I want to say to Irish people: we’re your neighbours and friends, we care for your children and your grandparents. We serve you in cafés and we shop in your stores,”

A mother had explained her sadness, “I wish I could be with my children at Christmas, but if I go back then how will I support my family”.

Where there is will and humanity, there is solution

MRCI had tabled a proposal with Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter calling for a system of “earned regularisation” for undocumented migrants. The proposal had been with his office for almost two years.

MRCI deputy director Edel McGinley had noted, We’ve a very practical solution that sets out clear and transparent criteria for people to come forward and have their cases adjudicated on. You need to be in employment and paying taxes. You’re given a points system which allows you to earn your way to permanent residency.”

All of this was a practical proposal that would harm no-one.

However, Justice Minister Alan Shatter was not in favour of such a scheme and had claimed that it is incumbent on non-EU nationals to ensure that they have permission to live here.

Minister Shatter had no interest in solving the problem. He had no cause for concern for separated families, missed funerals, children that can’t see their grannies.

7 years have gone by and since then no government had real interest in ending the suffering of undocumented migrants.

Ireland must now do the right thing

Mainstream election campaigns are not generally a platform to discuss the suffering of the most vulnerable in our society. Furthermore, what doesn’t bring more votes is not seen as an issue to be tackled by the majority of political parties.

But, the incoming government must do the right thing and regularise all undocumented migrants in Ireland.

They are working. They have children, families here. They are part of the community. A piece of paper is all it takes to regularise their immigration status. It will be good for Ireland it will be good for people.

At present there is no general amnesty available to regularise the position of undocumented migrants in Ireland.

The limited regularisation scheme of 2018 was welcomed by MRCI. It was a step in the right direction but a small one. With the scheme the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) would accept online applications for regularisation from irregular migrants who had arrived to study in Ireland between 1 January 2005 and 31 December 2010. This scheme closed in 2019.

The scheme is too narrow. It was not designed to benefit the majority of the undocumented migrants.

Stricter border controls, tough immigration laws and deportations don’t necessarily stop people from staying in Ireland. People who have to stay for one reason or other do so ‘illegally’ if there are no legal-human oriented ways.

This is now time for Ireland to regularise all undocumented migrants. For years, MRCI and other campaign groups have fought hard to make all past governments hear the calls of the undocumented migrants. These calls mostly fell on deaf ears.

Despite border walls, electrified fences, armed border guards, deportations and #FortressEurope policies migration is a fact of life and people will continue to migrate for many reasons.

There is a choice for new government and Ireland: Continue the policy of denial or do the decent thing and set people free to make this land their homes.

Pic: Irish Independent (2013)


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