Immigrant Council of Ireland reaction to Department of Justice Strategy Statement 2021-2023
The Immigrant Council of Ireland welcomes the Department of Justice’s Strategy Statement published yesterday (22 February 2021) as a comprehensive roadmap to address many of the longstanding deficiencies in the Irish immigration system.
Immigration system reform
We welcome the Department of Justice’s commitment to moving to a customer-centric model for immigration service delivery as well as the modernisation of current immigration processes and services through digitisation and enhanced transparency and consistency in decision-making. Many of the items outlined in the Department’s Action Plan address issues that have been raised repeatedly by the Immigrant Council of Ireland based on feedback from our service users via our helpline and law centre.
These measures include:
- Making information more accessible to migrant audiences by communicating important information in plain English and providing multi-lingual materials where relevant for immigration-related matters.
- Improving transparency by introducing ongoing monitoring and reporting of customer service satisfaction across immigration service delivery and twice yearly reporting of immigration application numbers, cases completed and average processing times.
- Delivering a reduction in processing times for all types of immigration applications including citizenship by the end of 2021.
- Introducing a new online booking system for immigration registrations and piloting the transfer of immigration functions from the GNIB to the Department of Justice immigration service delivery bodies.
- Introducing new functionality for visa application payments and increasing the number of countries eligible for short-stay visas and 5 year-multi-visa applications.
- Implementing new working groups internally and externally with migrant rights NGOs to identify and resolve service delivery gaps in immigration.
- Introducing a ‘case consistency board’ to ensure consistent decision making in immigration matters.
- Introducing pathways to regularisation of long-term undocumented people and their dependents by Q3 2021 with system ready to start accepting applications by Q4.
- Evaluating and refining the international protection process and increasing ease of access to the labour market for applicants within 6 months of applying.
- Reviewing the current policy of holding immigration detainees in prison.
While the above commitments are positive and reflect areas where Immigrant Council service users experience difficulties, we urge the Department to, in tandem, conduct a review of all immigration related legislation with a view towards determining whether it is fit for purpose. This review should identify what measures should be taken to increase the legal rights of migrants and reduce the overall reliance on Ministerial discretion in the current system. In addition, the Immigrant Council urges the Department to review and strengthen all appeals processes within the system - many areas within the immigration system lack any form of independent appeals process, and indeed some areas (such as the application process for Irish citizenship) do not allow any right to appeal a negative decision, apart from initiating Judicial Review proceedings.
Promoting diversity and inclusion
The Immigrant Council welcomes the Department of Justice’s commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion not only in its service delivery by ensuring its messages are communicated not only in plain English but also in other languages, but also in its striving to achieve greater diversity within the justice sector, including An Garda Síochána, court services, and the judiciary. Greater diversity in these areas is fundamental to a more accurate and balanced representation of migrants across several key areas of Irish society.
Accessibility of the legal system
As an Independent Law Centre providing free legal advice to migrants, the Immigrant Council is well aware of the many barriers faced by migrants in accessing legal services. As such we welcome the Department of Justice’s commitment to equalising access to the legal system and introducing better controls over legal costs.
Fighting gender-based violence and human trafficking
We welcome the Department of Justice’s explicit focus on preventing gender-based violence and human trafficking given the unique migrant dimension typically associated with these crimes. Ireland has long been criticised at national level and internationally for not doing enough to fight human trafficking and the Immigrant Council welcomes the Department’s renewed commitment to combating these practices. As the national leaders in the discourse on human trafficking, we also welcome the Department’s emphasis on providing the specific, bespoke supports required by victims of these crimes as supported by internationally-recognised, Immigrant Council-led research in these areas.
We welcome the commitment to complete the review of Section 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences Act 2017) and commit to further engagement with Government and partners to see the effective implementation of that Act, which provides or the decriminalisation of those in the sex trade and the targeting of the demand for paid sexual services that fuels the trade. We urge the Department to develop comprehensive exit strategies for those experiencing exploitation in the sex trade, including access to secure immigration status for those without.
Fighting hate crime
The Immigrant Council has long campaigned for new and effective hate crime legislation to fight the rise of toxic hate speech that has been growing in Irish society both online and offline. We welcome the Department of Justice’s commitment to introducing effective legislation in 2021 in order to stem the tide in the proliferation of hate speech and racial attacks against migrants in Ireland.
Summary: The Immigrant Council of Ireland looks forward to engaging with the Department on these key issues, as well as working with its partner organisations working for migrant rights to ensure the Department of Justice’s ambitious Action Plan. It is both appropriate and essential that action be taken which resolves many of the longstanding issues facing migrants in Ireland today. We urge the Government to ensure adequate resourcing of the Department of Justice to carry out this ambitious agenda, as comprehensive reform in the above areas will not only benefit those who have chosen Ireland as their new home, but will benefit all of society through strengthening rights, equality and access to justice for Irelands diverse communities.