Wasted Lives In A Wasteful System


From top: Protest outside Leinster House earlier this month calling for the end of Direct Provision; Imran Khurshid

As the new government is formed, we all have an opportunity to set forth; what matters to us, what kind of society we are and above all ask, do we treat others equally.

Ireland has a troubled history with its own identity for generations. There’s no denying that. The cultural divisions from the civil war are only now perhaps being laid to rest with this new government. The national division of families who prefer rugby over GAA (and vice versa) is potentially ending as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil enter a coalition government.

What was once thought of as unthinkable, has now changed and ‘changed utterly’. Indeed, change has to be accepted before you can change anything else. That’s life and well… politics.

One aspect of Irish life that can and must change, is our immigration policy. It’s wasteful and at times, unjust. I’d like to address a few issues we can and should change in the near future.

Direct Provision

Across Ireland, there are approximately 47 ‘Direct Provision’ (DP) centres to house and feed over 7,000 who seek international protection within Ireland.

Adults and children within them get a state allowance of €38.80 and €29.80, respectively, a week along with medical care. As well as those in ‘DP’ there are over 1,600 in emergency accommodation. It’s expensive.

Hotels, B&Bs are all included in the bill which cost €129.4 million last year. Even then the total costs of providing legal and other state supports must be quite high on top of that.

That said, for those in need and considering the wider problems of affordable accommodation, it does have its advantages as a stop gap for those awaiting their decision. The problem is that applicants are caught within the system for years unable to progress in their lives as a result of this system.

While only recently the Supreme Court did decide that those in direct provision could work after waiting for nine months if they hadn’t received a decision on their asylum application, albeit in a highly restricted manner designed to limit employment opportunities.

One of the positive takeaways from the Covid crisis is that the former government sought recommendations from the former secretary general of the European Commission, Dr. Catherine Day.

She proposed extending the right to work, reducing the application process times, a move to alternative housing and funding models among many other potential changes. Proposals no doubt welcomed by so many caught within the system.

Sadly during the past while, most of the conversation in the media was taken up by a substandard Kerry DP centre becoming a cluster of Covid cases.

Unfortunately, the former Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar merely conceded that there was some substandard accommodation within DP centres during a recent Dáil debate about the matter.

Now, let’s change that conversation.

At the heart of it all, let’s think long term about this. Let’s ask, what do we want as a country? Do we want genuine integration and diversity within Irish society to strength it with a sense of empathy versus sowing the seeds of division and nativism?

Is it fair for the Irish Government to lobby for Irish immigration reform in the USA while millions of other nationals there would become ‘others’ in the political conversation about immigration policy?

If Ireland adopts alternatives to the current system and work proactively at integration efforts from day one, we would reduce the overall cost of the system and create opportunities for applicants to share their skills and expertise within our economy.

While the current accommodation crisis means it would be unfeasible to end DP immediately, there is a lot we could do.

For instance, compulsory language and culture classes within DP centres, the right to work from the date of application, registration with relevant authorities for employment and volunteer opportunities can and, in my opinion, should be done. In many other countries similar programmes take place and it is time we accept that we can learn from such expertise.

Work Permits

As our offices, bars, hotels and restaurants slowly reopen as we enter Phase 3 of our reopening plan, we must consider the wide variety of workers who depend on our work permit system. There are two procedures, the work permit application and the visa application on top of it, if you are so required.

A work permit begins with an application to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) which requires a number of application documents. If they’re successful, they then apply for a work visa if so required by their nationality. A work permit alone may cost an employee a non-refundable €1,000.

Though if a work visa application from the Department of Justice and Equality gets denied: they are caught short. Often in my legal practice, assisting clients in such cases they are repeatedly informed that their employer’s reference letter is not sufficient on the basis of the quality of the paper or that the use of a Hotmail or Yahoo email account for the business are not accepted.

Not all businesses have the capacity or time to set up their own email domain and it is frankly ridiculous to have physical paper quality determine if a willing and capable worker is denied the opportunity to contribute to Ireland’s economy.

If the DBEI accepts employment and supporting documents, why can’t Justice do the same? Are there no interdepartmental guidelines on such matters?

From my experience dealing with a diverse range of clients, I believe there are none. To change it, I suggest that one department carries out the full checks and a subsequent department is not able to object to them.

This would save applicants their fee and the considerable resources used by the state in this convoluted system. Consistency and the rigours of fairness must apply to all applicants under the law.

Naturalisation applications

Naturalisation is the process of becoming an Irish citizen after fulfilling the legal criteria. Recently, there was a change to the system and applicants no longer have to wait years for their decision.

Yet in my experience, while most applicants only need few months to hear the result of their application decision, some wait years. That’s outright unfair and unjust.

Occasionally these delays result in Judicial Review proceedings, which are challenges on the delay or process that the applicant has endured. Court orders to command the Minister of the day to make decisions in these matters, happen. However, like many other aspects of Ireland’s immigration policy in practice, it is extremely costly on everyone.

Applicants have to ‘take it on the chin’ that for years their lives, will be in limbo. This has profound financial, social and mental health impacts on applicants. For most, it means their families remain divided as the onerous financial criteria on applicants stay until they become citizens.

As the world economy adapts to many international changes after the Covid crisis, we should take stock of how we accept others in Irish society with these potential changes.

After all, we are changing our government, so let’s change this too.

Imran Khurshid is a solicitor practicing in the area of immigration law. He contested the local elections for Fianna Fáil in Dublin’s north inner city in 2019.


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19 thoughts on “Wasted Lives In A Wasteful System

  1. scottser

    lost me at the ‘gaa v rugby’ bit. i only have a half hour for lunch, and i can’t be wasting it on this nonsense. besides, i haven’t read squires yet..

    1. Dangerfield

      bit dismissive on what’s a very minor point in a piece on how the wider, significant and multiple ways that living in DP can impact your life potential, and very unnecessarily too. It needs dismantling.

        1. Bertie Theodore Alphege Blenkinsop

          I’m going to order a print for my study*
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  2. Gerry

    No admission of the problem of economic migrants

    Ireland should be a haven for asylum seekers, but I know of a case where an applicant claimed to be from a troubled part of Nigeria while being ignorant of the geography of the area and the local dialect – bogus

    A friend of mine works for a charity supporting refugees, she told me of a mother who made various claims, that were then contradicted by the 8-year old sitting in her lap.

    We should make legal immigration easier and illegal immigration harder.

    As someone who has lived and worked around the world and has spent time and money to ensure I did so legally I am infuriated by the catch-all term ‘migrant’.

    There are three categories: legal migrant, asylum-seeker/refugee, and illegal immigrant. The first two deserve respect and assistance, the third, none.

    1. Gerry

      As to whether the quality of paper and the use of yahoo or hotmail addresses should have a bearing on an application, of course they should! Any civil servant or GNIB officer should be more suspicious of such applications — it’s not much of a company if it doesn’t even have a registered domain.

      I know solicitors should advocate for their clients, but this lack of self-awareness may suggest an area to work on if the writer hopes to succeed in his future political endeavours

  3. Charger Salmons

    Nigeria is the richest country in Africa.
    Nigerians account for the largest nationality in Direct Provision Centres.
    Are we at least allowed to ask why ?

    1. Janet, dreams of spidercrab and fancy pastries

      you wouldn’t want to be gay there for a start

        1. sidhe

          no, she means in Nigeria

          it says a lot for your reading comprehension that you came to that a conclusion

    2. scottser

      because as soon as you google ‘poverty index in nigeria’; this comes up:
      ‘Poverty has risen in Nigeria, with almost 100 million people living on less than a $1 (£0.63) a day, despite economic growth, statistics have shown. The National Bureau of Statistics said 60.9% of Nigerians in 2010 were living in “absolute poverty” – this figure had risen from 54.7% in 2004.’

      1. Charger Salmons

        How do these people living in absolute poverty in Nigeria raise enough money for the airfare to bring themselves and their family to Ireland ?
        They don’t row all the way here in a boat.
        If they’ve come here via another EU country why haven’t they claimed asylum in that country as they are obliged to under EU law ?
        So many difficult questions.
        So few answers.

      2. Rob_G

        Should everyone who lives in a country poorer than Ireland be entitled to come and live here? Because, although you wouldn’t really know it from reading the comments on this site, Ireland is one of the richest countries in the world, so that would be an awful lot of people…

  4. Joe Small

    Many good points there, particularly about the relationship between work permits and Dept of justive.
    Just to make two points –

    Quite a few economic migrants lie about their reasons for migrating. I know someone who did interviews and it was not unusual to here the EXACT same story from people from different parts of the same country and even different countries in relation to their persecution back home. Clearly for SOME asylum seekers, persecution stories are exchanged and rehearsed. The worst thing about this is that it makes it harder to identify genuine asylum seekers and makes it more likely that a genuine asylum seeker could be deported.

    Secondly, yes, Direct Provision should be ended. How will we achieve that in the short-to-medium-term during a housing crisis? I haven’t heard any coherent solutions linked to reality recently.

    1. Cian

      +1 Well said.

      One other thing that often gets lost is that the Irish asylum process can be efficient. For example, Syrians are processed very quickly because their status can be checked quickly. The lengthy stays in DP tend to be for the people claiming asylum that seem to be economic migrants.

  5. Kate

    Imran poses interesting points. “…..naturealisation takes months , sometimes years”….”even the costs of providing legal and other state supports must be quite high”.
    Imran has immigration consultancy office and law firm on same. No doubt he provides interpreter services ? He surely can give us an idea of costs? He was accused of “abuse of the court ” last year in High Court by Judge in respect of a Pakistani suspected fake marriage to EU national. 129.4 million for B/B’s /hotel is alot of money when you consider workers on 40 hour week struggle to pay sky high rent in cramped apartments.

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