Dáil Éireann - Volume 643 - 11 December, 2007
Written Answers. - Asylum Applications.
Deputy James Bannon Deputy James Bannon
Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the plans he has to update legislation and provision for long-term asylum seekers to allow them to work or continue in funded education after completion of second level, until their residency status has been determined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34404/07]
Deputy Brian Lenihan Deputy Brian Lenihan
Deputy Brian Lenihan: In relation to access to the labour market, it is not proposed to allow asylum applicants to take up paid employment pending a final decision being made on their applications. Section 9(4)(b) of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended) provides that an applicant for asylum shall not seek or enter employment. It must also be borne in mind that under the 1996 Act asylum seekers only have temporary permission to remain in the State pending the determination of their applications. However, we must face the fact that, despite its humanitarian purpose, people seek protection under the 1996 Act (which gives effect to the State’s obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention) for the purpose of avoiding legitimate immigration controls in order to gain a foothold in the State for economic reasons. Similar trends have been experienced by other EU Member States.
I believe that extending the right to work would have a very negative impact on the number of asylum applications, as was experienced in the aftermath of the July 1999 decision to do so. The immediate effect of that measure was a threefold increase in the average number of applications per month leading to a figure of 1,217 applications in December 1999 compared with an average of 364 per month for the period January to July 1999. Any proposal to grant asylum seekers access to the labour market would also undermine the current and effective work permit system which provides a comprehensive channel for legal migration to the State. It would further widen the gap in a negative manner in terms of reward between those who access the labour market legally through the work permit and visa channels and those who simply abuse the asylum process to gain entry.
 It is a well established fact that those engaged in trafficking and those seeking to access the labour market without going through the appropriate legal channels are very quick to identify any perceived attractiveness of a country as a preferred or easily accessed destination. It is clear from the profile of applicants, and the results of the determination process, that a significant number of people have sought asylum in Ireland with a view to seeking work. Many people are already working illegally. It is my very strong belief that any extension of the right to work along the lines proposed by the Deputy would be portrayed abroad by people traffickers to potential victims as a guarantee of a right to work.
Schemes and measures available to assist students in third level education are, in the first instance, a matter for the Minister for Education and Science. However, under the Free Fees Initiative asylum seekers are not eligible for the payment by the Exchequer of tuition fees in respect of approved third level courses. For similar reasons to those outlined above, in relation to access to the labour market, I am not in favour of any extension of the Free Fees Initiative to asylum seekers.
Dáil Éireann 643 Written Answers. Asylum Applications.