Regularisation Scheme: Hope for Undocumented Migrants

Calling all undocumented migrants! From 31 January 2022, applications have been open for Ireland’s regularisation scheme. Many of you may be wondering, what exactly is a regularisation scheme? Simply put, it is a governmental scheme that allows those who have no immigration status in Ireland to apply for legal residence. 

The scheme offers an estimated 17,000 undocumented migrants a path to Irish citizenship. It was confirmed in January of this year by Ireland’s Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee. So, if you are currently living in Ireland illegally, this may be an opportunity for you to officially gain residency.

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Who Can Apply and Where?

The scheme is for people who have been undocumented in Ireland for at least 4 years at the start of the scheme, or at least 3 years for families with children under 18. Applications can be submitted individually, or as a family. There are a couple of other conditions:

  • You meet the residency rules.
  • You have the documentation and identification needed.
  • You have not been convicted of serious criminal offences.
  • You are not a threat to national security.
  • You pay the application fee. (Single applications are €550, family applications are €700)

If you meet the above criteria you can find information on how to apply at the Migrants Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI). Here is the link. You can also find information on the citizen’s information website or the government of Ireland website.

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Undocumented Migrants

Let’s clarify what is meant by an undocumented migrant. An undocumented migrant is a person from outside the EU or EEA, who doesn’t have official permission to be in Ireland. That’s not to say that the person never had permission to live in Ireland, they may have resided here legally for a period of time, but now that residence has expired. Nevertheless, they are undocumented now.

For many of our non-migrant readers, the term “undocumented migrant” may be a completely foreign concept (excuse the pun). For this reason, I spoke with a member of the migrant community who has recently availed of the government’s regularisation scheme, to provide sufficient context.

Albert’s Story

Albert Bello is Chair of the Justice For Undocumented (JFU) group. JFU, along with Migrants Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), have been working tirelessly over the last 11 years for the rights of undocumented migrants. Albert was generous enough to share his story with me.

Albert left his home country of Malawi back in 2015 with a dream of obtaining an education in Ireland. Malawi is a small country in southern Africa, with an economy heavily dependent on agriculture. It is one of the poorest countries in the world.

“I came to Ireland to study and hopefully get a job because life back home is very tough,” Albert explained.

Whilst people may envisage an undocumented migrant as a person who has somehow snuck into the country, and now remains here illegally, that is not usually the case. In Albert’s circumstance, he was granted a student visa so that he could attend college and complete his education. However, things did not exactly go to plan:

“When I arrived I enrolled in my college, and two weeks later it was shut down by the government. It was terrible. We were told to enrol in another college instantly. The problem is they never gave back the money.”

All of the colleges that were recommended were really expensive, which meant they weren’t a viable option for Albert. Additionally, right around this time, the government introduced a law restricting students to 20 hours of work a week. This further hindered Albert’s ability to meet rent and afford transportation and other basic needs. Albert was eventually afforded some luck, in the form of a decent job which meant he could get by.

By the time he was eventually enrolled in another college, it was too late:

“I then got enrolled in another college, but that was a year later and my original visa was only for a year. So when I wanted to renew my visa it was delayed for 3 months and they refused to renew it, that is how I became undocumented”.

Albert described how the authorities instructed him that he should go home and start the visa application cycle again. This was a very difficult decision to make and ultimately, with the help of his family, Albert decided to stay. It is easy to say Albert was breaking the law, and he was wrong to stay here illegally. However, sometimes there seems to be a grey area between what is right and wrong. Everyone has a different story. Albert was working here so that his family could have some quality of life back home:

“I do support my family because here life is a bit better than home, so that’s why I stayed. It is a difficult decision to make as there are risks such as deportation, but it was a decision I had to make.”

After speaking to Albert, it is clear that the decision to live in Ireland as an undocumented migrant is not one that you would make lightly. There is a fear that follows you around every day, and obviously, you try not to think about it, but Albert told how every now and then you get a gentle reminder:

“You are constantly living in fear, you always fear deportation. Sometimes a certain company might get raided and people get deported, I know many people that were deported and it is disturbing. When you hear this news it doesn’t give you peace of mind. You are in a situation where you cannot go home because you can’t leave the country, it really is difficult.”

The fear of deportation would be one of the first things that come to mind when you think of undocumented migrants. But there are other disadvantages that wouldn’t even cross your mind. One of the more striking hindrances is the inability to report a crime:

“Also you can’t report a crime if you see it. You are thinking the same authorities will deport you. It is not a comfortable situation.”

Another significant challenge is finding work. It really comes down to luck. In Albert’s case, he found a job before his visa expiry, and he wasn’t asked for proof of visa thereafter. This is not always the case, and there are circumstances where being undocumented invites exploitation:

“Some jobs constantly ask for visas. And even if you get a job it is difficult because once they find out that you are undocumented they take advantage of that, they can pay what they want because you can’t report that you are getting peanuts. I have friends from the same country and they are being exploited, but they have to make ends meet.”

Albert’s experiences provide an idea of the varying circumstances that undocumented migrants find themselves in. It is not always a straightforward case of right and wrong, each person has their own unique back story.


The Scheme

As I mentioned already, this scheme has been in the works for the past 11 years. Albert decided to take initiative and joined the JFU 4 years ago:

“Instead of hiding, I decided to take part in campaigns so that if it materialises then I am also the beneficiary.”

I also had the opportunity to speak with Neil Bruton of the MRCI, who explained the motivation behind the regularisation scheme:

“A lot of the problems we were seeing in the MRCI were as a result of migrants being undocumented so we decided we should do something about that,” Neil explained.

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The Benefits

The movement grew from humble beginnings with a mere five people attending the first meeting, to more than two thousand people over the years. The benefits of the scheme are simple, if you meet the criteria you will be granted a secure status. This allows them to work in any job and provides a route towards citizenship.

At the time of writing this article, there have already been over 5,000 applications, and 250 people have received their legal status, with the remaining applications being processed. Coincidently, Albert was in this first group of migrants to obtain legal status. In fact, he just received the news the day before I spoke with him. I questioned him on how he felt after receiving the good news:

“I am happy, relieved, excited. It brings a new lease on life because I will be able to go home, visit my family and come back. And also I will be able to complete my education. I’m hoping to finish my degree. 

In general, I will no longer be living in fear. I will be able to stand up for my basic rights like everybody else.”

Neil really wanted to express how all undocumented migrants that fit the criteria should apply. To reiterate, the scheme is accepting applications until 31 July 2022. Now is the time to submit your application! 

Again, you can see all relevant information and apply HERE through the MRCI.

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Going forward

Although this scheme is a huge opportunity for undocumented migrants living in Ireland, it is only in operation for six months. So, I asked both Albert and Neil what were the plans going forward, after the 31 July deadline. Neil answered first:

“This scheme doesn’t solve everything, we will be continuing the fight for them. We look forward to working with the Minister on this progressive approach for those left out.”

Albert mirrored Neil’s statement, acknowledging that, inevitably, people will be left out this time around, and what is needed going forward is a consistency of both effort and progress:

“We still have undocumented people in need, we need to keep fighting. Hopefully, we see progress for those that are left out.”

Ronan Kirby
Ronan Kirby

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