Program could benefit thousands of undocumented migrants

A new scheme is opening today which will give thousands of undocumented migrants and their families official permission to reside in Ireland.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee described it as a “unique program” that would improve the lives of thousands of people who contributed to society but still lived in the shadow of justice.

According to the Ministry of Justice, there could be up to 17,000 undocumented people living in Ireland, including up to 3,000 children.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Ms McEntee said the scheme is not open and people will need to meet certain criteria to apply.

She said the aim is to process applications as quickly as possible and she hopes some of the first people will get their decision by the end of this year.

Although applicants must have resided in Ireland for a continuous period of four years, the Minister said a potential 90-day window has been built into the scheme which would allow someone to have left the state to valid reasons.

“Once you can show that you’ve had a four-year period on documentation with potentially that little window, like I said, for humanitarian reasons if somebody has to go home.

“We want to be as responsive as possible to people’s situations, understanding that it’s never easy,” she said.

Meanwhile, those with children under 18 will only need to have resided in Ireland for three years.

Applicants are permitted to include a spouse or partner and children between the ages of 18 and 23 in their applications. Successful applicants will be granted access to the labor market and can begin a pathway to Irish citizenship.

Those with an existing deportation order or expired student permits are also eligible to apply.

Applicants must be considered of good character and not pose a threat to the state, but having convictions for minor offenses will not, in and of itself, result in disqualification.

Ms McEntee said there will also be an appeals process and people can be sure that if they are unsuccessful their application will be independently assessed on appeal.

She also said that a deportation order does not necessarily prevent a person from applying or passing, but that each individual and each application will be considered.

If there is a serious or otherwise pending criminal conviction, she said, that is something the justice minister will have to consider.

Online applications for the program will be accepted for six months until July 31, the closing date of the program.

Migrant Center welcomes introduction of program

The regularization program has been welcomed by organizations working with migrant communities.

A campaign called Justice for Undocumented Migrants was launched by the Migrant Rights Center Ireland and has been running for 11 years.

“It started as a group of 4 or 5 undocumented people thinking about how to improve their situation. It grew into a network of over 2,000 undocumented people who over the years have taken measures and have bravely come forward to press for regularization,” says Neil Bruton, Campaigns Manager at MRCI.

Mr Bruton says undocumented migrants here are like undocumented Irish in the United States.

“Undocumented basically means they don’t have status. Many would have had it before, but couldn’t renew, but they decided to stay and try to have a better life here,” a- he declared.

Immigrant Council CEO Brian Killoran also hailed the program, calling it “rare” and said it would “change the lives of thousands of people” and “bring them out of the shadows”.

However, he said some were concerned the criteria were too restrictive and an application fee would be prohibitive. The application fee for a single person is €550, while the fee for a family application is €700.

Mr Killoran said some undocumented people could be close to destitution and there should be a fee waiver.

Mr Bruton meanwhile said they would have preferred the fee to be lower and said it would be difficult for some applicants to meet. He said the center would try to support these people.

There are also concerns that the scheme is not broad enough.

“They could be three and a half here, or they could be 4 here with documents for part of that time,” Killoran says.

Mr Bruton agreed that the program “doesn’t solve everything”, but was a great first step.

“We look forward to working with the minister to build on this and hope it can be expanded in the future.”

The Immigration Council says people considering applying should seek advice from civil society organizations working with migrants, such as the Immigrant Council and the Migrants Rights Centre, as well as information centers citizens.

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