The boom transformed Ireland into a country of immigration but, with the crisis, net emigration has returned for the moment. Government is restricting family access to work, increasing fees and cutting funds, including for the Equality Authority, which may undermine its anti-discrimination work. These exacerbate the effect of the crisis on immigrants, who are already more likely to lose jobs.

These and other restrictions mean that, despite some improvements in discrimination caselaw, Ireland’s policies are still not halfway (49) favourable for integration, below CA, UK, and US and new labour migration countries (ES, PT). Historically inclusive on nationality and political opportunities, Ireland supported some boom-time projects but did not translate them into basic policies for newcomers (e.g. education). Immigrants’ opportunities in Ireland are further falling behind when other countries (e.g. GR and LU) improve political participation, naturalisation and, thanks to EU law, family reunion and long-term residence. Ireland’s family reunion and long-term residence procedures set the least favourable conditions for integration in Europe and North America. Political will is needed to adopt the necessary legislation for cost-effective, coherent and legal procedures.

Timeline - What's Changed

+8 July 2007
Equality Tribunal confirms anti-discrimination covers social advantages and protection
-3 July 2008
Labour market mobility
Closure of Integrate Ireland Language and Training
0 December 2008
Education, anti-discrimination
Closure of National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism
-2 August 2008
Access to nationality
Naturalisation and Citizenship Fees Regulation – fees now €950
-2 April 2009
Family reunion
Changes to work permit arrangements for migrant workers
0 September 2009
ERA complains to Europe following cuts to the Equality Authority and IHRC budgets
0 July 2010
Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill
3rd draft is published

Key Findings

  • Labour market access is poor unlike other countries of labour migration. 
  • Non-EU family reunion worst of all countries and long-term residence 4th worst, as Ireland opts out of EU law and fails to adopt the Immigration, Residence, and Protection Bill. 
  • Discretionary procedures and basic unequal rights set some of most unfavourable conditions for non-EU residents to integrate. 
  • Political participation and access to nationality are still areas of strength and among the highest in Europe, although these basic principles becoming the norm in many countries of immigration. 
  • Public bodies and initiatives that further the integration of migrants are severely affected by the crisis through closures and funding cuts. 

Score Changes

Areas of Integration

  • Show Labour Market Mobility

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    Language and Training (IILT) closed

    In July 2008, the government withdrew funding from the 12 not-for-profit IILT centres that had been helping adult migrants and refugees learn English, and providing schools with the language teaching materials they needed. Students, NGOs (Aontas) and teachers’ unions criticised the move as a severe setback. The government promised to maintain the same level of funding and integrate these services into mainstream vocational education committees. Some students are now getting services, but without monitoring, there is no guarantee that they are as good or available as before.

    Ireland misses out on the long-term economic potential of its non-EU residents. Ranked 28th out of 31, these policies keep many outside the labour market or in jobs below their qualifications. Unlike EU citizens, non-EU temporary workers cannot access or change jobs, start businesses, or use general job support as in other new and established countries of labour migration (ES, PT, US). Their families face new restrictions to work and become financially independent. The National Qualifications Authority only just started tackling the fact that non-EU qualifications are regularly downgraded or not recognised. Those wishing to up-skill have difficulty benefiting from reduced fees or maintenance grants. The crisis saw the withdrawal of innovative targeted measures (see box).

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    Few clear standards

    EU Member States agreed the Family Reunion Directive in 2003 with 2 years for implementation. Most now provide the majority of non-EU families with basic security and rights. However, Ireland has not yet set its own standards despite 3 drafts of an Immigration, Residence, and Protection Bill. The 2008 draft received over 300 amendments to make it more clear, fair and workable. Of these, many were ignored in the 2010 draft, which sets high fees, without the right to family reunion or full access to justice. Non-EU families still lack clear legal rules.


    A breadwinner model: families made dependent on sponsor

    The spouse and dependants of a migrant who applied for a work permit before 1 June 2009 could apply for a work permit under a special scheme. Now, however, they must get a work permit in their own right. However, they cannot apply for occupations that currently are off the work permit list. By restricting possibilities for work, families may not be able to become economically self-sufficient.

    With the least favourable family reunion policies in Europe or North America, Ireland shows little respect for the family life of its non-EU residents and discourages their integration once arrived. It even scores below DK, which sends its citizens abroad if they or their non-EU partner have the slightest link to another country. In Ireland, only EU citizens and Irish citizens who move abroad in the EU have a clear right to family reunion with a non-EU resident. The rest lack the basic infrastructure to live with their families unlike in major countries of immigration like CA, US, and UK. Families enjoy better security and rights in most European countries because of EU law (2003/86/EC), whereas Ireland opts out. Irish politicians have been unable to pass the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, despite wide consultation (see box).

    Few families in Ireland can reunite. Beyond refugees, others are at the mercy of the Minister. Half the MIPEX countries allow most newcomers to apply immediately or upon 1 year’s residence. Ireland requires average legal conditions but these matter little, because the Minister has wide discretion to reject families, 2nd only to Latvia. They have limited scope for appeal without much legal aid. This creates significant costs for government, which families must bear if they lose. In nearly all MIPEX countries, families know that their circumstances must be considered, learn why they are rejected, and enjoy judicial oversight.

    Family members that succeed in being reunited still suffer the most unfavourable conditions for integration in the 31 MIPEX countries. They have no right to their own permit, even if widowed or abused. If they lose or leave their sponsor, they can lose their right to stay, a situation which only exists in BG and DK. They face some restrictions to benefits, education and training. Foreign workers affected by the crisis now see their families’ opportunities to work being restricted (see box), forcing many to be economically dependent and live with less. 19 countries treat all family members equally as their sponsor. 

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    NCCRI closed but intercultural strategy launched:

    The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism closed in December 2008 due to State budget costs. However, the Minister for Integration promised to mainstream its work. At least its work on interculturalism in schools may continue with the 2010 Intercultural Education Strategy, launched following consultation under the National Action Plan Against Racism. It aims to involve schools in interculturalism, encourage partnership with diverse parents and communities, and improve teacher training, student proficiency in the language of instruction and data for evidence based support.

    Like most new immigration countries, Ireland is among the least prepared to help newcomers with specific needs to do just as well in school. Since 2010, disadvantaged children have 1 free pre-school year. All can access compulsory education and general support. But migrants with specific needs enjoy less favourable targeted measures than in most new immigration countries. Boom-time funding and projects did not create systems that allow all schools to address or monitor these needs today. Now, many language support teachers are disappearing and organisations such as IILT (see earlier) and NCCRI are closed. Ireland offers less than most on intercultural education or new opportunities. 22 support immigrant languages, while 12 support outreach to migrant parents (see box). 

  • Show Political Participation

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    Immigrants benefit from Ireland’s traditionally inclusive political community, a strong point for its integration policy. Tying 3rd with NL after FI and NO, Ireland leads on local voting rights. Dublin’s ‘Migrant Voter’ campaign could be used nationwide in future elections. New communities can organise themselves thanks to full political liberties, philanthropic support and some government funding. Examples are AKiDWA, for migrant women, and the New Communities Partnership (NCP), representing minority and immigrant-led organisations. Ireland, like other new immigration countries, is starting to consult new communities in some way. NCP local fora are immigrant-organised and led. While national Councils on Integration may be more regular and formal, immigrants cannot elect their own representative or chair the meetings.

  • Show Long Term Residence

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    Two options but no solution

    Lacking permanent residence, immigrants have 2 lesser options: ‘permission to remain without condition as to time’ after 8 years and long-term residence for renewable 5-year periods for workers after 60 months. MIPEX scores the second, though both are equally unfavourable because of full ministerial discretion. EU law requires that Member States (except DK, IE, UK) offer long-term residence after 5 years. DK soon will after 4, while the UK traditionally required 2 – 5 years for workers and families. CA and US grant permanent residence upon arrival.

    Until they become citizens, Ireland’s non-EU residents are insecure in their status because Ireland still lacks the basic long-term residence entitlement that all European and North American countries provide (see box). The average legal conditions are undermined by the discretionary procedure, 2nd worst to CH. The 2010 Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill would add vague conditions, such as being ‘reasonably integrated’, without clarifying rights and responsibilities. 24 MIPEX countries offer full judicial oversight, absent in IE. Immigrants are not only uncertain of how to pass, but also what rights they gain, and whether their status will be renewed. Only CY does not guarantee equal rights to immigrants, after living so long in the country. 

  • Show Access to Nationality

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    Recent citizenship reforms

    Migrants now have a genuine chance to apply and prepare in GR and LU, where discretionary procedures are now more formal and rule based. Both countries set a legal time limit: for LU to reduce the previously 2-yearwait; for GR to stop systematic maladministration. While LU’s costs were not prohibitive, those in GR, once the highest in Europe, were reduced to make acquisition ‘more realistic’ for average people. Applicants in both are more secure in their status based on new reasoned decisions in GR and explicit refusal/withdrawal grounds in LU.

    Ireland’s path to citizenship can be an asset for integration, when no longer undermined by long, discretionary procedures. Many new immigration countries are adopting basic elements of Ireland’s policy: short residence requirements (7 others), some birthright citizenship (14), and dual nationality (17). However, the Minister has ‘absolute’ discretion to interpret the slightly unfavourable conditions (e.g. vague ‘good character’) and can even reject those who meet them. Only applicants in CY, GR, LT, LV, MT are so insecure. Most countries (19) offer reasoned decisions and appeal options. Becoming Irish is one of the most expensive gambles in Europe and North America, with fees rising to €950. Recent proposals add new conditions (language) without resolving these underlying flaws. 

  • Show Anti-discrimination

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    Equality Cuts

    Opposition parties and civil society are questioning the disproportionately high cuts to the Irish equality and human rights bodies. The Equality Authority’s CEO resigned in protest, claiming it was being victimised for its independence, particularly for investigating alleged public sector discrimination. The new Equality Rights Alliance (ERA) researched how the work and independence of both organisations are being compromised and found Ireland spends less on these bodies than, for instance, DK or Northern Ireland. In September 2009 it complained to the European Commission and Parliament that Ireland was possibly breaching EU equality directives.

    As in most countries, integration improves when government and equality bodies work to guarantee equal opportunities in practice. Ireland’s strong anti-discrimination protection is becoming standard, as countries implement EU law. Indeed, Ireland’s definitions are now weaker than in 21 countries (e.g. profiling, multiple discrimination) and enforcement mechanisms are below 26 (e.g. NGO role, class actions, aid). Since MIPEX II, the Equality Tribunal confirmed that anti-discrimination covered social protection and advantages as in 15 other countries. Its powers are favourable but funding cuts could seriously reduce effectiveness (see box). The government makes fewer commitments to equality than average. Residents in CA, NO, SE, UK, US benefit from public duties to promote equality and, in 9 countries, information campaigns and dialogue.