New Labour Immigration Policies will Fail Unless Employment Laws are Enforced – Trinity College Policy Institute Study

Posted on: 19 May 2005

Punish employers who violate immigration laws, recommends report The government has promised a comprehensive overhaul of Ireland’s labour immigration policies.1 However, a major new study argues that the proposed new policies will fail unless employment laws are effectively enforced. The report, launched today at Trinity College Dublin’s Policy Institute by Mr. Tony Killeen, T.D., and Minister of State for Labour Affairs at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE), also recommends the introduction of a permanent immigration programme and re-adjustment of current temporary work permit policies. The study, ‘Managing the immigration and employment of non-EU nationals in Ireland’, by Dr. Martin Ruhs, a former visiting research fellow of the Policy Institute and currently Senior Labour Market Economist at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at Oxford University, discusses Ireland’s labour immigration trends, impacts and policies since the late 1990s. The report lays out the key issues and policy options to consider in the reform of Ireland’s labour immigration policies in the aftermath of EU enlargement. Since May 2004 over 85,000 workers from the new EU member countries have taken up legal employment in Ireland, a figure that is equivalent to more than 4 percent of Ireland’s labour force. The figures for 2005 indicate no decline in the number of accession state workers coming to work in Ireland, in fact April 2005 showed the highest monthly number since accession2. In light of these figures and Ireland’s current immigration policies, the study strongly calls for four key policies to ensure that Ireland benefits from future labour migration from within and outside the enlarged EU: – Punishing employers who violate immigration laws – Empowering the Labour Inspectorate to help enforce employment laws – Allowing migrants on work permits to freely change employers within defined job categories and after a certain period of time – Introducing a permanent immigration programme ‘Punish employers who violate immigration laws’ As of February 2005, only three employers had been convicted of violating Ireland’s Employment Permits Act 2003. “In contrast to all other immigration control policies, employer sanctions serve the important purpose of addressing the demand for illegally employing migrant workers. Without policies that minimise demand, policies aimed at minimising supply (border control, deportations) are likely to be far less effective than is possible,” stated Dr. Ruhs. ‘Empower Labour Inspectorate to help enforce employment laws’ There is increasing anecdotal evidence suggesting that Ireland’s extensive employment and equality legislation may not always be enforced in practice. The report supports calls for the Labour Inspectorate to play a much stronger role in helping enforce Ireland’s employment laws and regulations, especially those pertaining to minimum wages and employment conditions of migrant workers. “The enforcement of employment laws is necessary to prevent a situation where migrant workers are employed at sub-standard wages and employment conditions that would not be acceptable to local workers” argues Dr. Ruhs. ‘Introduce a permanent immigration programme’ The report argues that Ireland’s current lack of an immigration programme that grants permanent residence immediately upon arrival will make it difficult for Ireland to compete with other high-income countries for highly skilled migrant workers. A permanent immigration programme is also necessary to enable some migrants who are already employed in Ireland on temporary permits to acquire secure permanent immigrant status without having to naturalise. ‘Allow migrants on work permits to freely change employers within a defined job category and after a certain period of time’ The report recommends that migrants employed on work permits be given the opportunity to freely change employers within a defined job category and after a certain period of time (e.g. after one year of employment in Ireland). This would help protect migrant workers’ rights by enabling them to more easily escape unsatisfactory working conditions than is currently the case. The study is the 19th in the series ‘Studies in Public Policy’ published by Trinity’s Policy Institute. The series aims to bridge the gap between the academic and professional policy communities and to make a real difference to public policy debate in Ireland. Copies of the report can be obtained from The Policy Institute (