Ireland has launched a "once-in-a-generation" amnesty for undocumented migrants that will grant many people in the country legal residency for the first time.
People who have been living in Ireland illegally for at least four years, including those with an existing deportation order, will be allowed to apply for the scheme and become regularised residents, with full access to jobs and a pathway to becoming Irish citizens.
And it will be easier for families with children under 18 and asylum seekers to take advantage of the amnesty – with lower requirements for them to have lived in the country of three years and two years respectively.
Up to 17,000 people are expected to benefit from the programme, which the Immigrant Council of Ireland said would be "profoundly transformative to the lives of thousands of individuals and families, including children born here in Ireland who have never known any other home".
Announcing the opening of the amnesty, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said: “I firmly believe this scheme will improve the lives of thousands of people across the country who contribute to our society, enrich our culture and work in our economy but unfortunately still live in the legal shadows."
She added: “People come to Ireland to make a better life for themselves and their families, and they can find themselves undocumented for many reasons.
“This scheme will provide an opportunity for those who meet its criteria to remain and reside in the State and to become part of mainstream Irish society rather than living on its margins."
The scheme has been broadly welcomed by migrants' rights organisations, which have long campaigned for an amnesty – but there has been some criticism of the relatively high application fees of €700 (£582) for a family and €550 (£458) for an individual.
Immigrant Council of Ireland chief executive Brian Killoran said that "many of the potential applicants of the scheme may struggle with the cost of the fees given the shadow nature of their employment conditions". The amnesty will be in effect for six months.
Tjanasi Potso, chairperson of Justice for Undocumented group said: “This scheme will allow us to live securely in our homes, no longer in fear that the next knock at the door will be someone to take us away.
"We can stand up for our rights at work, our children can grow up safely, and we can visit our families for the first time in many years. We are grateful to all the supporters and allies who have campaigned with us.”
The approach is in contrast to that taken across the Irish Sea in the UK, where the government has launched strict crackdowns on undocumented people, in the name of fighting "illegal immigration". Priti Patel's new immigration and borders bill has been accused by lawyers of breaching international and domestic rights in 10 different ways.
Boris Johnson said in March last year that he might be open to an amnesty for some people who have been in the UK illegally for more than 15 years, though the policy has yet to surface.
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