The recent immigration increase seen in Ireland has been driven mainly by workers moving to Ireland to fill labour shortages and many of the policy developments relate to labour migration. Policy developments in relation to asylum, citizenship and general immigration are also discussed below.
Labour Migration Policy
All nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA)
The number of work permits issued to non-EEA nationals increased dramatically from 6.262 in 1999 to 47.551 in 2003, a more than seven-fold increase (see figure). Most of these permits were issued in low-skilled occupations in sectors such as catering, other services and agriculture. In 2000 a work visa and work authorisation programme was introduced to facilitate the recruitment of highly-skilled non-EU nationals in the areas of information and computing technologies, construction professionals, and a broad range of medical, health and social care professions.
As the number of immigrants coming to Ireland increased the government sought to exercise more control of work permit allocations. From January 2002 employers were required to prove that they could not source workers in Ireland before applying for a permit, previously the requirement was voluntary. April 2003 saw an important step towards a more interventionist labour migration policy with the passing of the Employment Permits Act 2003 which put the employment permits system on a statutory footing for the first time. The Act was principally intended to manage the access of nationals from the new EU accession states to the Irish labour market in May 2004 by making provision for the introduction of a work permit for these nationals, should the labour market experience a disturbance. At the same time that Ireland was opening up to EU workers, conditions were made more restrictive for Non-EU nationals. The government had begun to pursue a policy of sourcing all but highly-skilled and/or scarce labour from within the EEA. The effect of this policy is evident in the drop in work permits issued post-2004.
The 2004 EU enlargement marked the start of a period of unprecedented rates of immigration to Ireland. Apart from Ireland, only the UK and Sweden granted accession state nationals unrestricted access to their labour markets immediately upon EU enlargement, all other member states imposed restrictions. Nationals from the new member states have had unlimited access to the Irish labour market since May 2004. However, Irish welfare laws were changed prior to enlargement to make payments conditional on habitual residency in the state.
Nationals from the ten new member states, most significantly from Poland, dominated these flows, comprising over 40 per cent of total immigrants from 2005 onwards (see figure left). Partly in response to the magnitude of the flow, the Irish government sought to exercise increasing control over non-EEA labour migration. In January 2007 a new employment permit system was introduced with the objective of further restricting lower-skilled work permit allocations while attempting to increase Ireland´s attractiveness to highly-skilled non-EEA workers. There are three main elements to the scheme:
A type of "Green Card" for any position with an annual salary of € 60.000 or more in any sector, or for a restricted list of occupations in healthcare, information technology, financial and industry sectors, where skill shortages have been identified, with an annual salary range from € 30.000 to € 59.999.
A work permit scheme for a very restricted list of occupations with an annual salary up to € 30.000, where the shortage is one of labour rather than skills. Work permits are now most usually issued in the catering, medical and nursing and other services sectors.
An Intra-Company Transfer scheme for temporary trans-national management transfers.
In 2008 the immigration rate slowed in response to economic contraction but large numbers of new EU nationals continued to migrate to Ireland (about 34 000 between April 2007 and April 2008). In the context of the current economic downturn policy has emerged to further manage lower skilled labour migration. It is significant that Ireland chose to maintain a work permit requirement for Romanian and Bulgarian nationals following their accession to the EU in 2006. In addition June 2009 saw a further tightening of the work permit system. No new work permits are issued for jobs with a salary of under € 30.000. The period for advertising the job within the EEA before applying for a work permit was extended and spouses and dependents of work permit holders are no longer exempt from this labour market needs test.
The number of asylum applications made in Ireland was very low prior to the mid 1990s: just 39 applications were made in 1992. In 2000 the number of applicants was almost 11.000, having increased more than nine-fold from 1.200 in 1996. The flow peaked in 2002 at 11.600 (see figure). The scale of these increases took Ireland by surprise and policy-makers struggled to cope with the flows, constructing an entire asylum system in the context of rapidly increasing demand. Starting in 2002, the number of asylum seekers declined and has been holding relatively steady at approximately 4.000-5.000 per year since 2005.
The breakdown of asylum applicants by nationality is shown below in the table. The flows have been dominated over the years by Nigerian and Romanian nationals although the number of applications from Romanian nationals has fallen off since the country's accession to the EU in 2006.
Applications for Asylum by Nationality 2004 and 2008
|Country||Number of Applications||Country||Number of Applications|
Source: Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner
As the discussion above showed, both the number of new asylum applications and the numbers of non-EEA immigrants peaked around 2002. The former flow grew particularly suddenly from a very low base and this resulted in problems as the necessary structures for processing asylum applications were hastily put in place. The Refugee Act 1996, which was commenced in 2000, established the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) as a statutorily independent body that considers asylum applications at first instance. The ORAC is also responsible for investigating family reunification applications made by refugees. The ORAC reports its recommendations to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who issues final decisions. The Refugee Appeals Tribunal was also established under this Act and hears appeals of negative asylum decisions.
The Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 is due to be enacted in 2010. If enacted this Bill would also introduce a single protection determination procedure meaning that all protection claims, including claims for both asylum and subsidiary protection, would be examined under a single procedure. Applicants would be required to set out all of the grounds on which they wish to remain in the State at the outset of their claim, and all of these matters would be examined together.
General Immigration Policy
During the latter part of the 1990s and early 2000s the government placed a deliberate emphasis on addressing the asylum situation first and developments in the immigration area have been put on the back burner.
Policies on other migration flows are not well-developed in Ireland. With the exception of recognised refugees, non-EU migrants may apply for family reunification under an administrative scheme only, with a resulting lack of transparency in decision-making. Non-Governmental Organisations working with migrants in Ireland have called for the introduction of a statutory family reunification scheme with a transparent appeals mechanism.
Legislative instruments have been introduced in a somewhat piecemeal manner to address specific issues as they arise. Even now most immigration-related services remain on an administrative rather than a legislative basis. Irish immigration policy is strongly influenced by the Common Travel Area shared with the UK.
The capacity of the State to manage immigration is diminished in the context of large-scale EU immigration. As discussed above, non-EEA labour immigration is now quite restricted and it is likely that this is a trend that will continue as Ireland continues to seek to meet lower-skilled labour needs from within the enlarged EU while attempting to attract only highly-skilled workers from the rest of the world.
There have been very significant policy developments in relation to non-Irish nationals and Irish citizenship in recent years. Like the United States and unlike any other European state, Ireland granted citizenship to anybody born on the territory (the jus soli principle) until 2005. In practice the non-Irish parents of Irish-born children could then apply for residency based on the Irish citizenship of their child. This led to concerns that non-Irish nationals, particularly asylum applicants, were travelling to Ireland and having children in order to gain that status. After a referendum in 2004 and a subsequent Constitutional amendment, changes in citizenship provisions were enacted which meant that any person born in Ireland after 1 January 2005 to non-Irish parents will not be automatically entitled to be an Irish citizen unless one of the parents was lawfully resident in Ireland for at least three out of the four years preceding the child's birth. Periods spent in Ireland as an asylum applicant or student are not considered.
Many non-Irish national parents who had applied for residency on the basis of their Irish child had their claims suspended in 2003. In January 2005 the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform invited these families to apply to remain in Ireland under the Irish-Born Child 2005 Scheme (IBC/05). Almost 18.000 applications were submitted under the Scheme and of these almost 16.700 were approved. Renewal arrangements have been put in place and after five years of legal residence the families concerned will be able to apply for citizenship.
All foreign nationals in Ireland may apply to become Irish citizens through naturalisation. Among various other requirements applicants must be able to show that they have had a period of 1 year's continuous residence in the State immediately before the date of application and, during the 8 years preceding that, have had a total residence in the State amounting to 4 years. (Altogether they must have 5 years' residence out of the previous 9 years.) The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has absolute discretion as to whether or not to grant naturalisation and there are significant backlogs in the system – on average an application takes 23 months to be decided upon. If a foreign national is married to an Irish citizen they may apply for Irish citizenship through naturalisation. The residence requirements are less stringent for the spouses of Irish citizens but there is no longer an absolute entitlement to Irish citizenship through marriage.