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ICI Sees 72% Increase in Immigration Queries & Launches New Information Guides On The Rights of Immigrants in Ireland

Resource type: News

Immigration Council of Ireland |

PRESS RELEASE The Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) today announced that some4,500 people sought information and support from the organisation’s Information Service in the 12 months to the end of July 2005. This represented a massive 72% increase on the numbers availing of the organisation’s Information Service in the previous 12 months, with the average number of queries jumping from 214 per month in the previous year to 375 per month during this period. According to the organisation, this unprecedented increase in demand occurred in the context of a number of substantial changes in immigration policies and procedures which took place from mid 2004 to mid 2005, about which people sought information and clarification. People from over 130 different countries accessed the service, the majority residing in Ireland with some enquiries from outside the state. The breakdown of nationalities includes people from all regions of the world including Europe (e.g. Ireland, Romania and Russia), Africa (e.g. Nigeria, South Africa and DR Congo) and Asia, as well as North and South America. The second highest proportion of people who accessed the service were Irish (20%) – mainly comprising spouses of immigrants and third party enquiries. Commenting on these trends, Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, Chairperson of the ICI, called for funding to resource the continuation of this work: The ever-increasing demands on the ICI’s services and the requirement to offer ever more complex legal and expert advice, demonstrates the high levels of confusion flowing from present systems and structures and the lack of integration between various arms of Government and State services. It is interesting to note that in the last year alone we have received numerous enquiries from over 250 different organisations, including both statutory and non-statutory bodies, on top of the thousands of requests for information and advice from individuals. Of course we welcome these enquiries. However, the high demand for our service which has increased at an unprecedented rate this year, and is set to continue – highlights again the need for Government to provide adequate funding for such a service. In analysing the trends, the organisation reported that the main issues of concern to immigrants in Ireland who accessed its service were related to permanent residency, family reunification rights and permission to work. The highest query related to gaining longer term or permanent residence (over 50% of all queries). According to the organisation, this is evidence of the high numbers of people who want to settle here for a long period, and, if possible, permanently. These people would typically have been living and working in Ireland for some time on a series of work permits, or are married to, or parents of Irish and EU citizens. Their queries would have included questions about how to apply for Irish citizenship, how to get permission to stay in Ireland on exceptional grounds, as well as queries from parents of Irish children who had the opportunity to apply for residency in Ireland for a period in early 2005. The organisation urged the Government to offer further opportunities for permanent residency to immigrants and their families in the forthcoming legislative review. Discussing the permanent nature of migration to Ireland, Sr. Stan continued, The fact that the issue of permanency was by far the main query shows that many people who come to Ireland are not transient they want to settle in Ireland for a longer period than is possible at present and continue to contribute to society economically, socially and culturally. The fact remains that there are still very few routes to permanent residency in Ireland.There are a number of possibilities such as citizenship and applying for permission to stay indefinitely, but these opportunities are discretionary, not guaranteed and the procedure is lengthy. We believe that people should not be required to change their citizenship just in order to gain security and to be able to get on with their life and do normal things such as buying property or putting their children through education. The second highest query recorded by the ICI related to queries on rights and entitlement to family life. There were many queries from immigrants who wanted to bring their spouse (60%), children (24%) or a family member to Ireland (16%). The organisation stated that in relation to family life the problems included a lack of automatic rights, with varying rights for different migrant families, discretionary decisions with no guaranteed outcomes and a lengthy, inaccessible process. These people accessing the service were a mix of Irish and other European nationals (who have a legal right for their non EU spouse to join them in Ireland) as well as other non EU nationals who had been living and working in Ireland for some time. The organisation called on Government to set down in law the rights of Irish, European and non European people in relation to family reunification as a matter of urgency. While welcoming recent announcements by the Government that they would be addressing some of these concerns, it called for equity of family life for all migrant families. The organisation also urged Minister Brennan to prioritise migrant families in the development of his Department’s policy on family life in Ireland. The third highest query reported by the organisation was related to permission to work – (10%) Immigrants, employers and service providers around Ireland all contacted the ICI’s Information Service with queries in relation to permission to work. All of these groups had questions about practical issues such as: how to apply for work permits or working visas/authorisations, delays in the process and difficulties in getting permits renewed, as well as the rights of migrant workers in the workplace. Many individual immigrants and organisations also enquired about how to deal with exploitation in the workplace, such as unfair dismissals, pay below the minimum wage, difficult or sub standard working conditions and sub standard accommodation (where provided by employers). These concerns were raised for all workers but particularly for non- EU workers who in certain sectors are still tied to their employers, increasing opportunities for exploitation. The organisation called on Government to address the ownership of labour and to regulate the labour market with increased inspectorate and sanctions for exploitative employers. While welcoming the fact that the Government has indicated that these issues will be addressed in the forthcoming Employment Permits Bill, the ICI stressed that this is not clear from the content of the proposals for the Bill. ICI urged the Government to address these issues as a matter of urgency in any forthcoming changes to legislation or regulations. The final trend commented upon by ICI was the difficulties for some new EU member state nationals arriving in Ireland, unaware of the cost of living in Ireland and the length of time it takes to seek employment/accommodation. The organisation expressed concern for EU nationals who are here for less than two years, due to the fact that current social welfare restrictions prohibit any safety net for people and can therefore result in undue hardship. In addition, further hardship is experienced by those in employment where difficulties arise, or, for example, if they have an accident preventing them from working. Others can slip below the poverty line and there is much evidence of people having to call on homeless and other services in these circumstances. The organisation welcomed Minister Brennan’s ongoing review of the Habitual Residence Condition with respect to the entitlement of people who have been living and working in the country for less than two years (such as new EU nationals) to receive social welfare benefits. The ICI reiterated the importance of reviewing the operation of the social welfare restrictions and called for the restrictions which are placed on people who are in difficult circumstances with no other means of support to be lifted. In conclusion, the ICI called on Government to address integration policy as a priority in 2006. The organisation urged the Government to put in place the right structures to ensure that Irish society thrives as a country of diversity in the future. This would require them to prioritise a positive, rights-based approach to immigration and immigrants’ rights and to put substantial investment into integration strategies in order to ensure that the scenes witnessed in France in recent weeks do not occur in Ireland in the future. Launch of Fact sheets on Immigrants’ Rights In addition to the launch of ICI’s latest annual statistics, The Minister for Social Affairs, Seamus Brennan, T.D. launched the non-governmental organisation’s latest initiative – information for immigrants in Ireland in the form of fact sheets on key information areas. The information gaps and the main issues of concern to immigrants were identified through the ICI’s Information Service and further informed through a national survey with service providers. The stated areas of concern were particularly focussed on permanent residency, family reunification rights and permission to work. Key themes which emerged from all consultations were that people continually encounter difficulties with various aspects of the Irish immigration system (often as a consequence of the bureaucratic nature of the process) and the fact that they are not clear on their own rights. The ICI responded to this by producing fact sheets containing clear, concise information on these key issues, which are: The Rights of Immigrants to Family Reunification in Ireland, The Rights of Immigrants to Long Term Residence and Citizenship in Ireland, The Rights of Immigrants to Leave to Remain in Ireland and The Rights of International Students in Ireland. These fact sheets now contain updated, accessible information on immigrants’ rights and step-by-step guidelines on how to negotiate the complex immigration system in Ireland. Nusha Yonkova, Information worker with the ICI commented on the launch of the fact sheets saying, This information is important as it can be very difficult to get clear information on immigration policies and procedures due to the fact that many government departments are involved in the process, procedures are complex, lack transparency, and there is not much published, digestible material available. We are delighted to be able to respond to the information needs of immigrants and other organisations by producing fact sheets on these topics, and particularly to be able to produce them in six different languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Romanian and Russian). By making them available in so many languages we are ensuring that as many people as possible can access the information and therefore be aware of and protect their own rights. We appreciate the Minister’s support in the production of these fact sheets, however, more information is always needed and we hope very much to be able to add to this suite of literature in 2006 with additional fact sheets, particularly as there are so many changes in relation to immigration policy and legislation due in coming year. We will be asking the Minister if his Departmentmight continue the sponsorship of this initiative which is such a valuable resource for both immigrants and service providers alike. For more information contact: Aoife Collins, Information Management and Communications Officer, the Immigrant Council of Ireland: 087-219 9422 or 01-674 0202 (Thursday) Denise Charlton, Chief Executive Officer, the Immigrant Council of Ireland: 087-653 3403 or Ailbhe Bennett, P.A.: 01-674 0202 (Thursday/Friday). Notes to the Editor: 1. The twenty four fact sheets on immigrants’ rights and entitlements (four topics in six different languages) will be launched by the Minister for Social Affairs, Seamus Brennan TD at the Government Press Centre on Thursday 10th November at 9.45am. For more information on the ICI’s Trends and to order copies of the factsheets themselves you can contact the Communications Section of the Immigrant Council of Ireland. Tel: 01-6458048/ 01-6458049. 2. The Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) was set up in 2002 as an independent non-governmental organisation that works with and for immigrants to promote their rights through its: Information Service Legal Service (limited service) Training Service Publications and Events Policy and Campaigning work and Work in partnership with immigrant and ethnic minority groups. Since it opened in 2002, the ICI’s Information Service has responded to over 9,500 requests for information on immigrants’ rights (via their drop-in centre, phone and email) from both individual migrants and organisations around the country which provide information to immigrants. The Immigrant Council of Ireland provides information on the rights of immigrants and their families, including migrant workers, international students, business people and visitors and now receives an average of 375 monthly queries per month. The organisation also undertakes outreach work, research and produces publications in order to promote the rights of immigrants in Ireland.