New scheme could significantly reduce the number of undocumented migrants living in Ireland

24 May 2022


Research shows that undocumented migrants can experience difficulties accessing services in Ireland. The recently introduced Regularisation of Long-Term Undocumented Migrants Scheme could significantly reduce the size of this group in Ireland. However, certain policy challenges remain, for those who do not regularise under this scheme and for future undocumented migrants.

New EMN Ireland/ESRI research looks at policy on undocumented migrants in Ireland. The research is part of an EU-wide study conducted by the European Migration Network (EMN), which is funded in Ireland by the European Union and the Department of Justice.


Regularisation is one policy response to the issue of irregular migration, either on a case-by-case basis, or in the form of collective regularisation programmes.  They may be introduced for humanitarian reasons (in the case of victims of trafficking) or may respond to labour market needs (focusing on workers only) or can be seen as a reward for contribution to the host society.

Ireland’s first scheme for undocumented former students was introduced in 2018 and just over 2,250 residence permissions were granted. The 2022 Regularisation of Long-Term Undocumented Migrants Scheme is open from 31 January until 31 July. Eligibility is broad and the scheme was generally welcomed by NGOs. Adults who have been undocumented in the state continuously for the previous four years are invited to apply, reduced to three years for families with minor children. A scheme covering International Protection applicants who have been in the process for at least two years was also launched in parallel.

Access to services

Undocumented migrants may not access social housing. However, they can access emergency healthcare and basic medical care with payment, but NGOs indicated that access to more specialised health care is difficult for this group. Access to mandatory education is universal. Previous research shows that fear of detection can lead to underuse of public services.

The study found a lack of public service firewall provisions, guaranteeing that a person’s undocumented migration status will not be shared. NGOs stress the need for clear firewall provisions between migration authorities and the police, labour inspectors and social service providers.  Such a scheme was put in place during Covid, assuring undocumented migrants that they could avail of vaccination without fear of their details being shared with the migration authorities.

The EU level report shows that in many Member States, a tension exists between national-level policies which focus on reducing the scale of irregular migration and local-level government which provide services to individuals in need. In Ireland access to homeless services for example may be decided on a case-by-case basis, responding to individual need.

Size of the group

Most undocumented migrants in Ireland entered the country legally, and later became undocumented. The majority reside unknown to the authorities. No official data exist on the size of this group and estimates are difficult. In 2020 the NGO, Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, estimated that there were 17,000 – 20,000 undocumented persons in the State, including 2,000 – 3,000 children.

Michał  Polakowski, co-author of the study notes that “Research shows that undocumented migrants are more likely to face material deprivation and are more vulnerable to exploitation and crime than legal residents. The Regularisation of Long-Term Undocumented Migrants Scheme presents an important opportunity for undocumented migrants to join Irish society, to live and work here legally, and to access services. They may later apply for citizenship if they choose. However, undocumented stays are likely to continue in the future. Going forward, it is important that all efforts are made to avoid people falling into this vulnerable situation. Also, in cases where a migrant’s residence becomes undocumented, care should be taken to ensure they are not afraid to access basic services.”

Read the report here.