EMN Report: Migrant Access to Social Security and Healthcare

New publication: Migrant Access to Social Security and Healthcare: Policies and Practice in Ireland 

No Evidence of a Systematic Over-Representation of Migrants Among Social Security Recipients in Ireland

A new report published today (Thursday, 17 July 2014) by the ESRI explores the proportion of non-Irish nationals in receipt of key social security benefits in January 2014, and looks at the policies and practices related to migrant access to social security

Proportion of migrants in receipt of social security payments
We find no evidence of systematic over-representation (meaning a disproportionately high number) of migrants among social security recipients in Ireland.

For example:

  •  In terms of the contributory Jobseeker's Benefit, non-Irish nationals are under-represented (meaning that their number is disproportionately low) among recipients (accounting for 14.7% of recipients, compared to their 15.4% share of the labour force).
  • In terms of the mean-tested Jobseeker's Allowance non-Irish nationals are over-represented (accounting for 17.5% of recipients).

Within the non-Irish group, some differences are observed:

  • Persons from the EU15-28 are over-represented among both Jobseeker's Allowance and Jobseeker's Benefit recipients (9.7% and 8.7% respectively), relative to their proportion in the labour force (7.0%).
  • Non-EU nationals are under-represented among recipients of both Jobseeker's  payments (3.1% of Jobseeker's Allowance and 1.6% of Jobseeker's Benefit recipients), compared to 4.1% in the labour force.

A wide range of factors influences the extent to which an individual or group accesses social security, and the data can be difficult to interpret. For example, the young age profile of the migrant population may explain high rates of Child Benefit and low rates of State Pension take-up:

  •  Non-Irish nationals are over-represented among Child Benefit recipients (20.7%, compared to a 13.4% share of the population aged 15 and over).
  • Non-Irish nationals are under-represented among State Pension Contributory recipients (1.9% of whom are non-Irish compared to 13.4% of the population aged 15 and over).


The role of residence-related conditions

Access to most non-contributory payments in Ireland depends on meeting a Habitual Residence Condition (HRC). The HRC is designed to test whether or not an applicant’s “centre of interest” is in Ireland. The term “habitually resident” is not defined in law. Assessment of the HRC requires a discretionary consideration by Deciding Officers in the Department of Social Protection in relation to five factors, including: the length and continuity of residence in Ireland, employment history, and future residence intentions.

The ‘ordinarily resident’ condition, applied to health services, requires that an applicant has been resident, or intends to be resident, in the State for at least one year in order to access public healthcare.


Problems and challenges related to migrant access to social security

Our research shows that the assessment of the HRC can be challenging:

  •  The HRC has evolved significantly since its introduction in 2004 and reliance on a previous two-year residence requirement in Ireland or the UK is in evidence in current decision-making. This may be a legacy impact of previous training on the HRC. The removal of reference to the two-year rule from social welfare legislation is imminent, which may help to address the issue of reliance on this previous requirement.
  • The Deciding Officer must exercise considerable discretion in making a HRC decision. NGOs working in the field argue that the assessment of the HRC is too subjective and complex for consistency in decision-making to be achieved.
  • Prior to the application of the HRC an applicant must have a right to reside in the State; the legality of residence can be difficult for Deciding Officers to assess.

Irish immigration and social security policies have evolved separately and as a result certain points of ambiguity arise, for example:

  •  It is unclear whether an employment permit holder (whose permit is contingent on employment in a specified job) can be deemed to be “available for and genuinely seeking work” in the context of an application for Jobseeker’s Allowance.
  • While certain non-EEA nationals’ residence permits contain the requirement to not become “a burden on the State”, the concept is not well defined.


Commenting on the findings, report author Emma Quinn said:

“This report provides a new analysis which shows that, despite concerns expressed in several quarters, there is no consistent pattern of overrepresentation of migrants among social welfare recipients in Ireland. Interpreting the number of migrants who access social welfare can be difficult: migrants are a diverse group and, like Irish nationals, may need to access different social welfare supports for a variety of reasons (unemployment, disability etc). Policy exists which is specifically designed to ensure that people in receipt of social welfare in Ireland have a connection with the State. Implementation of the policy is challenging, in part because it is still evolving. Recent improvements in the availability of supporting guidelines and training must be built upon to help ensure that policy aims are consistently achieved.”


For further information on the research please contact: Emma Quinn (National Programme Coordinator, EMN), emma.quinn@esri.ie.  


Notes for editors:

1. Migrant Access to Social Security and Healthcare: Policies and Practice in Ireland was authored by Emma Quinn, Egle Gusciute, Alan Barrett and Corona Joyce, and will be published on 17 July 2014.

2. The ESRI acts as the Irish National Contact Point of the European Migration Network (EMN). The aim of EMN is to provide up-to-date, objective, reliable and comparable information on migration and asylum at member state and EU-level (see www.emn.ie and http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/networks/european_migration_network/index_en.htm).

3. The EMN is co-funded by the European Commission DG Home Affairs and the Irish Department of Justice and Equality.

4. All EMN studies are compiled according to common specifications and an EU-level synthesis report is subsequently produced. The synthesis report for this study may be accessed at: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/networks/european_migration_network/reports/docs/emn-studies/final_synthesis_report_migrant_access_to_social_security_final_3july2014_en.pdf

5. EU15-28 refers to the 13 EU Member States that joined the EU in 2004, 2007 and 2013.

6. Deciding Officers are staff of the Department of Social Protection tasked with accepting or rejecting claims for social welfare payments.

7. Data from Department of Social Protection show the proportion of Irish and non-Irish nationals in receipt of a range of payments in January 2014. This is compared to proportions of non-Irish and Irish nationals (aged over 15) in the population and in the labour force, based on data from the Quarterly National Household Survey for Q4 2013.