More than 600 undocumented migrants who applied to regularise their status under a “once in a generation” scheme announced 18 months ago, have yet to receive a decision.
Individuals and families who submitted applications more than a year ago and were led to believe they would receive decisions within three-six months face ongoing barriers to working, leaving the country and even getting a driving licence.
The unit processing applications closed in March, and the number of staff processing them fell from 21 to 10, despite there being more than 1,000 outstanding applications.
Campaigners describe the ongoing delays as “very difficult” for those affected and are calling on Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to assign sufficient staff to process applications promptly.
The scheme was announced by Ms McEntee in January 2022 following many years campaigning by groups representing undocumented migrants. Most had arrived legally into the State but had become irregular as visas expired.
The scheme was open for six months to individuals who had been undocumented for four years or more, or three years in the cases of families.
A total of 6,548 applications, in respect of 8,311 people – as multiple family members are included in single applications – were received by the deadline of July 31st, 2022. As of last Thursday, all but 655 applications had been processed.
Neil Bruton, campaigns co-ordinator with the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, said in recent weeks the organisation was hearing from “many people still waiting for a result… who are really struggling”.
On the anniversary of the scheme closing, he said: “Additional resources must be allocated to quickly complete the remaining applications so all eligible people can get the benefit of this life-changing scheme as soon as possible.”
Mohammed Basharat, his wife Sadia and their four children, aged between seven and 24, originally from Pakistan, have been living in Oldcastle, Co Meath since 2015, where they run a takeaway business.
They came to Ireland from the UK, where they had been since 2011, having moved there as their profoundly deaf daughters would not have got appropriate treatment in Pakistan. They have UK-citizen families there.
Mr Basharat’s brother, a UK citizen, who owned the takeaway in 2015, claimed the family as dependents under his treaty rights as a then-EU citizen. They were given temporary right to remain in Ireland which lapsed in 2017. In the interim, Mr Basharat’s brother returned to the UK. The couple bought the business and their youngest son was born. They own their home, employ four people and all their taxes are paid, he says.
Mr Basharat made a family application to the scheme in February 2022, paying the €700 fee. He cannot understand why they await a decision 17 months on.
“My biggest concern… is how it is affecting my wife and my children’s lives.”
He could not see his parents before they died in recent years. “I saw their last moments on WhatsApp. Now, my wife’s mother is badly ill. I don’t want my wife to go through the same thing.”
They live in a rural area and only he has a driving licence. “When I am working, even if I come home at 2am, I have to wake up, drop my children to school. If my wife had a driving licence, she can take them. My children are missing all the activities, like a friend’s birthday, going to swimming, if I am working. My wife feels like a lame duck. She cannot help them.
“Last year my daughter, there was a very important school trip to Germany. All her class go and she was just left behind, alone. She is 17 and she is profoundly deaf. Because of deafness she is already left behind and it really affects her more when this happens.
“The Minister says this is a very successful scheme. Why are they delaying? Every day my daughter is checking the post, saying: ‘Today we will get the letter.’ We have been here eight years. We are fully integrated, contributing to Ireland. It feels so unjust.”
Mr Bruton said the Barsharat family was, “as per our understanding… fully eligible for the scheme, has provided all the evidence needed and has been Garda vetted. We cannot see any reason for a delay like this.”
In a written answer to a parliamentary question, dated July 11th, Ms McEntee said remaining applications were “in the main more complex”.
“It is not possible to provide a definitive time frame for when all cases will be finalised, although every effort is being made to do so without undue delay,” she added.
“Processing times will vary having regard to the complexity of applications… supporting documentation, the vetting process… the possible need… to seek further information, and the resources available.”