Thanks to the focus provided by the 2017-2020 Migrant Integration Strategy, Ireland made it into the MIPEX ‘Top Ten’, scoring 64 out of the MIPEX 100-point-scale, higher than the MIPEX average country (49). Over the past few years, immigrants to Ireland have enjoyed improved access to health services, citizenship, political opportunities and justice, as Ireland has made advancements in policies of health, political participation, access to nationality and anti-discrimination. These recent efforts are likely to have long-term impacts, both for immigrant integration and for positive public attitudes and awareness on issues of immigration and discrimination.
However, it must be noted that issues remain as regards all of the above areas, which must be prioritized by legislators and policy makers if Irelands positive approach is to be embedded and sustained. Similarly, the momentum and focus encouraged by the National Migrant Integration Strategy must be further invested in and expanded upon in the next iteration of that strategy, with improved mechanisms for cross-departmental actions and monitoring, and clear and measureable targets and indicators of success. It is also advisable that the evaluation of the next iteration of the Migrant Integration Strategy be carried out independently.
A country’s integration policies matter because the way that governments treat immigrants strongly influences how well immigrants and the public interact and think of each other. Drawing on 130 independent scientific studies using MIPEX, integration policies emerge as one of the strongest factors shaping not only the public’s willingness to accept and interact with immigrants, but also immigrants’ own attitudes, belonging, participation and even health in their new home country.
Ireland’s approach to integration is classified as, on the whole, increasingly more “comprehensive” but only “slightly” favourable for integration. While immigrants benefit from Ireland’s areas of strength on integration, they do not enjoy equal rights and opportunities in all areas of life, particularly in terms of employment, education and family life. More broadly, non-EU immigrants can only feel halfway secure about their future in Ireland. The Irish immigration system makes it harder for non-EU newcomers to secure their career, family life and residence in Ireland than it is in most MIPEX countries. These policies encourage the public to see immigrants as their neighbours and their equals, but not yet as full citizens.
Non-EU residents regularly face problems of administrative discretion, bureaucracy and uncertainty about their permits and legal status. This major area of integration undermines immigrants’ willingness and ability to invest and settle in Ireland as their future home. These problems in the Irish immigration system have gone unresolved and even exacerbated during the COVID19 pandemic. Immigrants feel insecure in their family life and future in Ireland, even as Ireland depends on immigrants as 26% of its key workers during COVID19 according to a 2020 Study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. With a few changes inspired by EU law and common practices across Europe, Ireland could pilot temporary arrangements during these COVID19 times that could become permanent solutions in legislation from the new government.
Similarly, while on the whole policies addressing anti-discrimination and access to citizenship are seen as positive when compared internationally, significant issues remain within those areas. In the area of anti-discrimination, the lack of comprehensive Hate Crime and Hate Speech legislation, a National Action Plan Against Racism and well-resourced and accessible victim support services are seen as significant barriers to providing appropriate responses to victims of racism. As regards access to citizenship, while Ministerial discretion can be utilised positively in the determination of an application, it can also lead to a lack of both clarity and transparency in decision making. This lack of transparency is exacerbated by the lack of an appeals mechanism to challenge negative decisions.
Should the challenges described above be further addressed, Ireland can serve as a model for many newer destination countries in Europe and around the world. Ireland’s current policies are slightly above-average for Western Europe (EU15). Its areas of strength and weakness are most similar to Belgium, Luxembourg, countries with a comprehensive approach and large number of both EU and non-EU citizens. To improve its areas of weakness, Ireland can take inspiration from the standards set in EU law as well as policies in more inclusive countries like Canada, New Zealand, the Nordics and Portugal.
- Labour market mobility: Slightly unfavourable: Scoring far below average, Ireland offers much less support than any other EU country to secure equal opportunities on the labour market. Non-EU citizens with the right to work do not enjoy equal access to all types of jobs, education, training or social protection. Newcomers also lack sufficient support to get their foreign qualifications recognised or gain new professional and language skills. In contrast, most MIPEX countries grant equal access to long-term residents, family and some work migrants, while continuing to improve their recognition and targeted support.
- Family reunification: Halfway favourable: Scoring slightly below-average, Ireland’s policy is more discretionary and insecure than most MIPEX countries. Although the 2013 INIS Policy Document improved the clarity and security for separated non-EU families, Ireland’s policy is still far below the standards in EU and other English-speaking countries. In most MIPEX countries, sponsors with a basic legal income have the statutory right to reunite with at least their spouse/partner and minor children who enjoy the same security and basic rights, including the right to live independently from their sponsor after 5 years.
- Education: Halfway favourable: In Ireland, as in other newer destination countries, schools are slowly starting to respond to the needs and opportunities brought by the growing number of immigrant pupils. Ireland has developed guides for parents, trainings for teachers and ad hoc support for schools, including a new Migrant Teacher Project. However, all schools need systematic academic and financial support to guarantee equal opportunities for immigrant pupils and to integrate diversity into the school curriculum and activities.
- Health: Favourable: Ranked #1 alongside New Zealand, Switzerland and Sweden, Ireland addresses migrant health outcomes thanks to its 2nd National Intercultural Health Strategy 2018-2023. Although both legal and administrative obstacles exist for immigrants to be eligible for a medical card, immigrant patients are generally well informed and supported by responsive health services and the HSE National Social Inclusion Office.
- Political participation: Favourable: Ranked #2 alongside Finland, Luxembourg and New Zealand, Ireland is boosting political participation through inclusive voting rights, support for immigrant-run organisations, and, since the 2017 Migrant Integration Strategy, more regular information and consultation, although these structures and policies could be more immigrant-led.
- Permanent residence: Halfway favourable: Just 1% of non-EU residents are able to settle as long-term residents in Ireland, under some of the most restrictive and discretionary policies in the EU. Unless they become Irish citizens, non-EU citizens only have two options to secure their future and basic rights in Ireland (long-term residency and WCATT), but neither is a real solution; behind the rather favourable requirements on paper lies a highly discretionary and uncertain procedure. Ireland’s Migrant Integration Strategy has yet to deliver on the promised statutory scheme for Long-Term Residency, which exists in nearly all other MIPEX countries.
- Access to nationality: Slightly favourable: Ireland has positive approaches and practices regarding access to citizenship, similar to traditional destination countries, Portugal and Sweden. The Irish government encourages immigrants to become citizens through streamlined requirements, shorter processing times, acceptance of dual citizenship and citizenship ceremonies. The continued best practice of ‘Citizenship Ceremonies’, where persons who have newly been granted Irish citizenship swear their oath of fidelity to the State together in a group celebration, is a model which many other countries can learn from. However, the absolute use of Ministerial discretion, the lack of an appeals process, the cost of applications and the issue of processing time for some applications remain areas for considerable improvement.
- Anti-discrimination: Favourable: Immigrants benefit from greater discrimination protections and equality duties, thanks to the 2018 Education (Admissions to School) Act and the Actions under the 2017 Migrant Integration Strategy. These policies are similar to most Western European and traditional destination countries. Ireland’s favourable laws and Human Rights and Equality Commission are helping to raise discrimination awareness and reporting, though mechanisms could be stronger to enforce the law and equality in practice. Appropriate hate crime and hate speech legislation in Ireland, coupled with more comprehensive support for victims of racism and an overall National Action Plan Against Racism, are seen as a key area in need of development.