Undocumented people in Ireland stranded in insecure employment, the survey finds

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There are an estimated 15,000 undocumented people currently living in Ireland. This is one of the most underrepresented and vulnerable groups in the country. Migrants Rights Centre Ireland carried out a survey into the lives of over 1,000 undocumented people in the country. Laura Matjusaityte examined the results of this survey. 

Karuna’s youngest daughter is 5 now, her eldest daughter is 11. Both sisters have never met in person. 

Karuna has been living in Ireland for the past 10 years. Her youngest daughter was born and spent all her life in Ireland. Nevertheless, both of them are living here as undocumented people. 

Karuna hopes that one day she will be able to gain legal status in the country for herself and her daughter. Then both of her daughters could finally meet and she “could breathe easily for the first time in 10 years”. 

This is only one example from many heartbreaking stories coming from undocumented people who are living in Ireland. 

According to Migrants Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), an NGO working with migrants,  there are some 15,000 to 17,000 undocumented people in the state including 2,000 to 3,000 children. 

Chart shows the nationalities of undocumented people living in Ireland. 

A recent survey carried out by MRCI into the lives of 1,000 undocumented people living in Ireland showed that one of the biggest threats to undocumented people is a lack of job and salary security. 

One of the survey participants, Billy, said that getting his papers “would be a dream come true”. 

“I won’t have to worry every time there is a knock at the door. I’ll finally feel safe at my own home,” Billy said in the survey. 

The survey revealed that over 90% of undocumented people living in Ireland are employed and more than a quarter of them do not receive even the minimum wage. Almost half of the survey participants reported that their working hours exceed 40 hours per week. 

Another participant Zeinab, who has been living undocumented in Ireland for three years, said that there are times when she doesn’t get full pay, and sometimes she doesn’t get paid at all. 

“If I had my status I could stand up to this, I could get a better job and give my children a better future,” Zeinab said. 

Chart shows division by gender among undocumented people who took part in the survey. 

The survey further revealed that 70% of undocumented people in Ireland are aged between 24-44, almost 60% of them are women and 40% men.  

More than a quarter of the survey participants are providing care to older people in private home settings. A little less than 20% are working in cleaning and maintenance sectors, 20% in restaurants and catering services, and 10% are employed in the childcare sector. 

Chart shows sectors in which undocumented people are employed. 

A high percentage of undocumented workers admitted that they have been stuck in the same employment for years because they don’t have legal status. 

Three-quarters of respondents have been  in the same employment for three years or more. And more than 80% admitted being employed in the same sectors for over three years. 

Tjanasi Jack, Chair of Justice for the Undocumented Group, which is part of MRCI, spoke at the launch about fairer solutions for undocumented workers in Ireland. 

Tjanasi said that according to the survey over 75% of undocumented workers were living in Ireland for five or more years and more than 90% of them have permanent employment. 

“So many of us have stepped up and continue to work providing essential services throughout Covid-19. Unfortunately, the survey also revealed high levels of exploitation, with over a quarter of workers not receiving the minimum wage. This is unacceptable,” Tjanasi said. 

The current Immigration Act 1999-2004 allows people to seek immigration permissions in the state. The Department of Justice encourages people to come forward and apply for the humanitarian leave to remain, which would allow non-EEA nationals to stay living in the country. 

However, in practice, undocumented people often fear that the application would be unsuccessful and put them on the radar of Irish authorities and choose not to do so. 

Carol Sinnott, a solicitor from Sinnott Solicitors closely working with undocumented people, said that undocumented migrants are “living under the radar in constant fear of deportation” and without the ability to lawfully work and pay taxes in the state. 

“I have never met an undocumented migrant who would not be willing to work legally and pay taxes in the state,” Sinnott said, adding that “in fact, all of the undocumented migrants whom I have met are desperately trying to find a way to legalise their status”. 

The Department of Justice spokesperson Colm Daly said that “the Government is sympathetic to the situation of people who find themselves in an undocumented position here in Ireland”.   

According to the Department of Justice, the government is currently committed to creating a programme for Government, which would allow a new pathway for long-term undocumented people and their dependents to legalise their status, if they meet the required criteria.

“I believe that if the Minister for Justice implements a programme to provide a pathway for migrants to legalise/regulate their status in the state, it would be an extremely positive development for those migrants and the state,” Sinnott said. 

The Department of Justice stated that the government is “committed to introducing new pathways to status regularisation within 18 months of its formation”. 

The works on the programme have yet to begin. 

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