Thursday, 25 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
127. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will consider permitting the regularisation of fishers in the atypical scheme for non-EEA workers on stamp 4 equivalent status given the fact that those who are undocumented in the sector may be able to avail of a stamp 4 status through a scheme to regularise undocumented status; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57952/21]
Will the Minister for Justice consider permitting the regularisation of fishers in the atypical scheme for non-EEA workers on stamp 4 equivalent status, given the fact that those who are undocumented in the sector may be able to avail of a stamp 4 status through a scheme to regularise undocumented status will she make a statement on the matter?
As the Deputy is aware, the atypical working scheme was established as a cross-departmental response to address the matter of non-EEA workers on certain categories of vessels in the Irish fishing fleet who are not currently eligible for permission under the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment employment permit system.
The scheme provided, for the first time, a framework for the employment of non-EEA workers within defined segments of the Irish fishing fleet and was welcomed as a solution to the risk of exploitation, and importantly, to guarantee employment rights and protections to non-EEA fishers availing of the scheme. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, discussed the atypical working scheme for non-EEA fishers with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue and the Minister of State, Deputy English, and it was agreed that a review of the scheme would be carried out. Officials from our three Departments have held initial discussions on the review and will be engaging further to take this work forward as a priority.
In the interim, there are a number of other immigration avenues available to deal with any issues of concern. Those who wish to change employer within the sector of the fishing industry covered by the scheme can apply to my Department to do so. There is also ministerial discretion to grant a change of immigration status on a case-by-case basis, where this is requested by an applicant.
Regarding the regularisation scheme for long-term undocumented people mentioned specifically by the Deputy, my Department is still finalising the details of the scheme. This includes the eligibility considerations and qualifying criteria. The intention is to bring a proposal to Government in the coming weeks and to publish the details of the scheme before the year is out. The Deputy will appreciate that the details of the scheme are still being worked out. We are trying to make it as expansive and inclusive as possible, also taking into account that there are a significant number of other avenues for individuals to take in trying to regularise their status or to continue regularising a status that they currently obtain or hold. We are trying to ensure that as many people are supported as possible in this industry in general.
There are thousands of undocumented workers who have been on the edge of their seats all year since the scheme was flagged, hoping there was a path that might improve their situation. The fact that the Department did not announce the details as promised in September, and has still not announced the details, has only added to the anxiety.
My question focuses on a likely unfair anomaly in the proposed scheme that will impact on non-EEA fishers but it may well have similar impact in other sectors. It has been worked out so that there is a chance to correct it before the problem emerges. Like many other workers who have never been documented and have been here for four years or more, it is likely that a number of fishers will be able to avail of the documentation scheme on the basis of the information we have. Potential anomaly number one is that it is not clear if those fishers who are currently undocumented but who may have been enrolled in the atypical scheme within the last four-year timeframe are to be excluded. I am aware that the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland co-ordinated a letter to the Minister's office signed by a host of NGOs, unions and even some employer groups citing this concern as it exists across the board among undocumented workers in all sectors. Will the Minister comment on that?
I will comment on the timeline. We gave a commitment in the programme for Government to implement a new scheme within 18 months. While we are slightly shy of that, the scheme will open in the new year. I give that commitment. I am aware that people are anxious and nervous and want to know that it will open when we say it will. It will open in the new year. There may have been slight delays in that we wanted to engage as much as possible and I wanted to make the scheme as inclusive as possible to make sure that when it opens the systems and structures are in place so that people will not be waiting years for their status to be regularised.
I do not want to get into the details of the scheme because we have not published it yet. I do not want to speculate on what may or may not be in it. It is an undocumented scheme but we have also tried to take into account the fact that there are many different scenarios and different situations that people find themselves in. It is not as straightforward as one might think or that a person is here for a length of time and is undocumented and that is it. We are trying to take all of these things into account. Obviously, by working with the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, and all of the organisations, we have been doing that. I hope to publish the details of the scheme in the coming weeks.
I stress again that there are still other avenues for people to avail of. Unfortunately, the fact is that no matter what scheme one opens there will always be somebody on the wrong side of the line. We have to draw a line somewhere. I am trying to make it as inclusive as possible.
Given that the publication of the scheme is a bit down the road yet, let us make sure that the anomalies are dealt with. Anomaly number two is the patent unfairness of a situation whereby an undocumented fisher potentially has a clear path to avail of the scheme and obtain the visa stamp 4 that comes with it, freeing that person to work for any employer in any sector, a crew mate who is currently enrolled in the atypical scheme and who may well have been enrolled in the scheme for four years or more, will be denied access to the scheme and is condemned to remain on a comparatively disadvantageous visa stamp one, which must be renewed annually and ties the person to one employer, which often does not result in good treatment. Can the Minister see the potential unfairness and divisiveness that could be contained in this scheme, and that she still has time to avert this while the details are finalised?
I received a letter from the Taoiseach last week, clearly drafted by somebody from the Minister's Department, where they rolled back on what the Taoiseach said to me in the Dáil, and specifically said that fishers in the atypical scheme will be excluded. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that this is not the case, and to give the fishers in the atypical work permit scheme equal access to a visa stamp 4.
I must stress that this is an undocumented scheme. We gave a commitment to introduce the scheme within the first 18 months. I have committed with the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, and others, to make it as inclusive as possible. There are other avenues for people to avail of to try to regularise their status. While we are trying to make it as inclusive as possible, if we were to take on board the fact that there will be different scenarios where some people can avail of it and some people cannot, we would never introduce the scheme because no matter what scheme we have seen in the past, including, for example, student visa schemes and various others, there will always be somebody who is not included in it for whatever reason. If we were not to carry out scheme for that reason it would be a shame for the many thousands of people who will be able to avail of it. We are trying to make it as broad as possible to make sure as many people are included in it, but we must have set criteria. Unfortunately, it will be the case that not everybody will fall under that criteria. Where they do not fall under the criteria, every effort will be made to make sure that their current status be regularised, or otherwise, and that they are supported in making sure that they can maintain that, and progress on to further status if that is required.