Strong take up of right to work by international protection applicants in Ireland since 2018

Ireland granted international protection applicants the right to work in mid-2018. A considerable number of applicants have sought to access the labour market since then, with over 12,000 applicants granted labour market access permissions up to the end of 2022. New ESRI research examines labour market access by applicants and their integration into the Irish labour market.

The research is part of an EU-wide study conducted by the European Migration Network (EMN), which is funded in Ireland by the European Commission and the Department of Justice.

Key findings

For the period between mid-2018, when access was first granted to international protection applicants, and the end of 2022:

  • A majority of first-time labour market access applications were granted (80 per cent).
  • A labour market access permission is valid for one year and can be renewed.  Most applications for renewals were granted (94 per cent).
  • Available data show that most enter low skilled jobs, which are characterised by lower wages and poorer working conditions. The most common reported job titles were general operative (for example, in a warehouse), healthcare assistant, kitchen porter and cleaner.  
  • Young people in the international protection system are applying for and being granted labour market access permissions, with 135 young people aged 16 and 17 obtaining permissions between mid-2018 and 2022.

Integration measures

Employment is a key indicator of migrant integration. The introduction of labour market access for international protection applicants was broadly viewed as positive by stakeholders interviewed for this research. The procedure to gain access to the labour market was also viewed as relatively simple. Nonetheless, gaps remain in labour market integration supports for international protection applicants. Applicants are included within mainstream labour market integration policies and can access employment services, such as those provided by Intreo. However, applicants cannot access some employment supports due to not meeting eligibility requirements and there is no tailored labour market integration strategy addressing the particular needs of this group. 

NGOs play an important role in supporting labour market integration for applicants, running a number of small-scale projects across the country.  However, these initiatives rely on short-term funding, which undermines their sustainability.

Ongoing challenges

While progress has been made on issues such as access to driving licences and bank accounts, international protection applicants still face challenges in gaining employment in practice. These challenges were highlighted by stakeholders interviewed for this report and include the remote location of direct provision centres and the resultant scarcity of jobs, access to childcare, discrimination, and the underemployment of applicants in jobs that did not match qualifications held.

Emily Cunniffe, co-author of the report, stated that “The introduction of labour market access in Ireland in 2018 was a positive development in the reception of international protection applicants in Ireland. Our research shows a sizeable number of applicants have sought to work in Ireland. There nonetheless remain key barriers that can hinder access entirely or can result in applicants working in jobs that do not match their qualifications.”