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Migrant documentation scheme welcome but major anomalies must be addressed before launch to avoid unjust exclusions

03 Dec 2021

Responding to Irish Minister of Justice, Helen McEntees announcement today of the terms of a scheme for the country's estimated 17,000 undocumented workers, Michael OBrien, Fisheries Campaign Lead for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said:

This scheme will offer a clear path for thousands of undocumented workers, migrant fishers among them, to regularise their status after years of precariousness. It will rightly be welcomed by many.

"However, I have carefully noted the details of Minister McEntees announcement and, unfortunately, potential anomalies — that the ITF has been flagging for months — remain unaddressed.

For many undocumented fishers, the major question that they will ask themselves is whether to apply, as in doing so they will reveal themselves to the authorities. They will also have to weigh up the risks of applying at the considerable cost of €550, if they do not appear to meet the eligibility criteria when strictly applied.”


The potential anomalies of new scheme

OBrien went on to list three scenarios where migrant fishers and others have been in the state for four years or more but appear to be ineligible for the scheme.

Firstly, there are migrant fishers who were at some point enrolled into the Atypical Work Permit Scheme but in the course of the last four years became undocumented. One of the case studies presented on the Department of Justice website of those who would be eligible bears a close resemblance to this except in its scenario, the worker became undocumented more than four years ago. This seems very arbitrary.

Secondly, migrant fishers or former fishers who have temporary visas, typically tied into their admission into the national referral mechanism for suspected victims of human trafficking or tied into ongoing or pending Workplace Relations Commission cases. The conclusion of their cases may result in them being told to leave Ireland if they cannot apply for the documentation scheme.

Finally, there is the case of those who have been enrolled in the Atypical Work Permit scheme and remain in it to this day. This scheme comes with annual renewable Visa Stamp 1 tying the fisher to an individual vessel owner. It has been demonstrated that this leaves them open to oppressive and exploitative working conditions.

Thus we could have a divisive scenario where a fisher wholly undocumented for more that four years may apply for the documentation scheme which comes with a two-year-long Visa Stamp 4 enabling them to change employer. Meanwhile, another fisher enrolled in the Atypical Scheme possibly even on the same vessel is stuck with a comparatively disadvantageous visa. We are aware of a number of fishers currently enrolled in the Atypical Working Scheme who recently had Stamp 4 applications refused by the Department of Justice.

If the scheme had been based purely on residency, this would have simplified matters and dealt with the anomalous situations I have outlined here,” said O’Brien.

On behalf of the ITF, O’Brien co-signed two letters to the Minister, drafted by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland suggesting exactly that. Unfortunately, the letters and our direct correspondence with the Minister were not heeded.

Some minor adjustments or clarifications over the next four weeks could still remedy these anomalies, before the scheme comes into effect in January. Otherwise, the ITF and its legal advisors will have to assess alternative paths to improving the situation of the migrant fishers we represent,” added O’Brien.


Media Contact: Michael O’Brien / o’ / +353872400331