Many asylum seekers taking up right to work but barriers remain, ESRI finds

Most international protection applicants enter low-skilled jobs marked by poorer working conditions, according to research

Four-fifths of first-time applications to the labour market by asylum seekers have been granted since such access first became available, but barriers remain to applicants taking up work that matches their qualifications, a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found.

More than 12,000 international protection applicants – people who have sought asylum in the State under the International Protection Act 2015 – received labour market access between mid-2018, when it was first possible to obtain it, and the end of 2022.

Most applications for renewal – 94 per cent of the total – were also granted when the permission to work expired after a period of a year.

But the research by Michal Polakowski and Emily Cunniffe, part of an EU-wide study conducted by the European Migration Network (EMN), found that most applicants entered low-skilled jobs 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.

“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,” said Ms Cunniffe.

“There nonetheless remain key barriers that can hinder access entirely or can result in applicants working in jobs that do not match their qualifications.”

While progress has been made on issues such as access to driving licences and bank accounts, international protection applicants still face practical challenges in their bids to secure employment, the research found.

These challenges 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 do not match the qualifications they hold.

While international protection applicants are permitted to work in most sectors, they cannot work in public bodies, including the Civil Service, or, in some cases, bodies primarily funded by public funding.

Young people in the international protection system are also applying for and being granted labour market access, with 135 young people aged 16 and 17 obtaining permissions between mid-2018 and 2022, the authors found. Their research was funded by the European Commission and the Department of Justice.

Employment is considered an important indicator of migrant integration. But while the ESRI’s research found that the procedure to gain access to the labour market was viewed as relatively simple, it also concluded that gaps remain in the supports available to international protection applicants.

There is no tailored labour market integration strategy addressing the particular needs of this group, it said, with the support offered by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) through small-scale projects often relying on short-term funding.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics