Louth Cllr hits out at "prohibitive" employment laws for asylum seekers in Ireland

A 6 – 12-month work permit costs between €500 and €1,000

Tia Clarke

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Tia Clarke

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tia.clarke@dundalkdemocrat.ie

Emma Coffey

Louth Fianna Fáil Councillor Emma Coffey

Local Councillor Emma Coffey has spoken out against the challenges faced by asylum seekers who are restricted by Ireland's “prohibitive” employment laws.

In November 2017, the Irish Government lifted a ban which prevented asylum seekers from working whilst they were in Direct Provision and waiting on their refugee status.

The law was ruled as “unconstitutional” by the Supreme Court in May and was lifted in November. However, many have argued that they new laws are just as restrictive.

Under current laws if an asylum seeker wants to enter PAYE employment, the job they apply for cannot be one that an EU citizen or a person who has been granted full migration permission can take up.

The asylum seeker also needs to obtain a 6 – 12-month work permit, which costs between €500 and €1,000 (paid by themselves or the employer) and then secure a job which pays more than €30,000 per year. The job cannot be in any of approximately 70 sectors which include retail, hospitality, social care and health.

At present, when an individual who is seeking asylum arrives in Ireland, they are also prohibited from accessing social welfare, bar a payment of €21.60 per week and State direct provision of bed and board.

Councillor Emma Coffey, who has had direct experience in dealing with asylum seekers as a solicitor said: “The employment permit isn't going to work. Asylum seekers in Ireland are already living on very limited means - €21.60 per week. I think the work permit might as well cost €1 million because asylum seekers just don't have the €1,000 needed to obtain one.

The Louth Councillor said that she thought the work permit should be priced more reasonably at €100.

“And the average industrial wage is not even near €30,000. In fact the average wage for unskilled work in Louth would be more in the region of €16,000,” she added.

Cllr Coffey also pointed out that most asylum seekers “want to be self-sufficient” and “get involved in Irish society by entering the workforce here”.

And the Louth Cllr cited the current employment law as “prohibitive”. Councillor Coffey said: “We really need to be realistic about these measures. At the moment, the costs are prohibitive. I feel the current act is just a box-ticking exercise, as opposed to one which is actually tackling the issue and making employment accessible for asylum seekers.”

Ms Coffey continued: “We have shortages in certain areas, such as in the service industry, so I don't understand why we have restrictions against asylum seekers working in areas like these. It would benefit the asylum seekers, and the state as a whole.

“We have refugees coming in from places like Syria, and they are highly educated. And then have to go to another country where you cannot work in your own profession – it must be very hard for the families that come here. It's a very frustrating issue.”

Speaking of the Irish Government's announcement that Ireland would take in 4,000 refugees over the next few years under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme Cllr Coffey said: “We signed up to bring in a certain number of refugees, so we have to be able to manage those numbers. The Government needs to look at this whole situation, realistically.

“We will accept 330 refugees this year fleeing war-zones in Syria, Yemen and some other states.

“The current policies are just ticking boxes. Sometimes politicians need to be brave and stand up, but unfortunately, a lot of them are just interested in votes. We need change on this issue,” the Louth Councillor concluded.