The group is comprised of citizens from outside the EU whose work permits have expired for a variety of reasons, making them ineligible to stay here.
The main purpose of the scheme, which the Department of Justice said is on an ex-gratia basis, is to allow the people time to seek legitimate employment or, if they are already employed, obtain an employment permit from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
“The scheme is not in any sense a regularisation,” a Government spokesman said. “Each case is assessed on its merits and the temporary permission, which has been referred to by some as a ‘bridging visa’, is only given where the applicant can satisfy the authorities as to the merits of their application. The scheme does not apply to any other categories of undocumented migrant, such as those who entered the State illegally or overstayed their visa.”
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said: “It is very important that foreign nationals who are in Ireland and working here do so legally at all times. However, I am aware that there will be a small minority of cases where it is clear from the evidence that the reason for the individual becoming undocumented is not the fault of the migrant but of the employer.
“Where migrant workers have not been treated fairly by their employer and this has been the cause of their undocumented status it is appropriate we give them the chance to put things right.”
Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) welcomed the new scheme, saying several thousands workers had “fallen out of the work permit system and become undocumented through workplace exploitation, deception, or unexpected redundancy”.
ICTU official Esther Lynch said: “Condemning undocumented migrant workers to a life of fear benefits no one but abusive and exploitative employers. In that context, ICTU welcomes this new scheme to help regularise the situation of those workers that have become undocumented through no fault of their own. It is a necessary first step and helps prevent the emergence of a working underclass that is without either hope or protection.”
MRCI director Siobhán O’Donoghue said: “The Government is on the right path towards fixing the problems created by a poorly-designed immigration and work permit system. But this is only the first step towards regularising the estimated 30,000 undocumented persons in Ireland, many of whom have similar stories to the undocumented Irish in the United States.
“A wider scheme is still needed to provide a pathway for them to come forward and be allowed to participate more fully and equally in Irish society.”