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Ireland: Right to residence, employment, access to social programs (social assistance, health care, education and housing) and citizenship of the ten new European Union (EU) countries; whether citizens of the new EU countries can continue to file refugee claims/asylum applications in Ireland

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 15 October 2004
Citation / Document Symbol IRL42649.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ireland: Right to residence, employment, access to social programs (social assistance, health care, education and housing) and citizenship of the ten new European Union (EU) countries; whether citizens of the new EU countries can continue to file refugee claims/asylum applications in Ireland , 15 October 2004, IRL42649.E , available at: [accessed 21 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

On 1 May 2004, ten new states joined the European Union (EU) (EU n.d.a). They are Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia (ibid.). The Accession Treaty sets out the transition process for the new member states (ibid.). New EU nationals have the same rights in Ireland with regard to residence as do all old EU nationals (ibid.). However, access to social assistance (EU Presidency 2 Mar. 2004; Ireland 2 June 2004) and the right to employment for new EU nationals who want to go to Ireland may be restricted (EU n.d.a; Ireland 4 May 2004). This RIR details the transition process with regards to the right to residence, employment and access to social programs.

Right to residence

As is the case for citizens of the old member states, the right to residence in Ireland is given to all nationals of the new EU member states (EU Presidency 2 Mar. 2004; ibid. 24 Feb. 2004; see also Ireland 6 Feb. 2002). EU nationals that go to live in Ireland, however, must have employment or sufficient funds to support themselves (ibid.; see also EU Presidency 2 Mar. 2004).

One of the basic freedoms accorded to citizens of the EU is the freedom of movement of persons (EU n.d.a). Based on the principle of non-discrimination, all citizens of the EU have equal rights to residence in any member state (ibid. n.d.d).

EU nationals who wish to reside in Ireland for more than three months can acquire a residency permit (Ireland 6 Feb. 2002). To acquire a permit an individual is required to submit an application along with a signed statement from an employer, or proof of self-employment status, proof of registration for schooling, proof of financial means to live while studying, or if retired or out of work, proof of sufficient health insurance and money to support oneself and one's family (ibid.). Therefore, a person cannot be a "burden on society" by using the welfare system upon arrival in Ireland (EU Presidency 2 Mar. 2004). A person may be refused a residence permit if he or she is a "danger to public order or security," or "on public health grounds" (Ireland 6 Feb. 2002).

Residence gives a person the right to vote in European and local elections in Ireland (Ireland 1 June 2004).

Right to employment

All new EU nationals have the right to employment in Ireland (Ireland 4 May 2004), but must hold a residence permit to stay in Ireland (ibid. 6 Feb. 2002). No restrictions on the free movement of workers exist for nationals of Malta and Cyprus (EU n.d.a). A two-year initial period of transition, which can be extended to a maximum of seven years, for the new member states, will enable Ireland to institute "safeguard mechanism[s]" if the labour market "suffer[s] serious shocks" (Ireland 24 Mar. 2003). This period of transition of seven years applies only to the right to employment (EU n.d.a.).

Generally speaking, there are no restrictions for citizens of new member states to seek and access employment in Ireland (EU Presidency 2 Mar. 2004; ibid.24 Feb. 2004). The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Coughlan, stated "that this Government gave a commitment that EU citizens who want to come and work here from May 1st [2004] can do so and we will honour that commitment" (ibid.; ibid. 2 Mar. 2004). However, there are restrictions on EU nationals' entitlement to apply for jobs that relate to the "protection of interests of the state, such as the army, the police force, the diplomatic service, etc." (Ireland 4 May 2004).

EU nationals have to apply to get recognition of training completed in their country of origin (ibid.). A system has been put in place to facilitate the process of recognizing "diplomas and professional qualifications", including the creation of "sectoral directives," which have been set up to automatically recognize diplomas in certain fields: "architect, midwife, pharmacist, doctor, nurse, dentist and veterinary surgeon" (EU n.d.b). For other professions, a system of recognition of professional qualifications has been established (ibid.).

Right to access social programs

All new member state EU nationals have the right to access social programs such as health care (Ireland 13 Oct. 2002b), education (EU n.d.c), and housing (Ireland 13 Oct. 2002a). Among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate, no difference was found between the treatment of old and new EU nationals in terms of access to health, education and housing.

The Government of Ireland has stated that it wants to protect the social welfare system in case too many people who go to Ireland to work end up using the social welfare system instead (EU Presidency 2 Mar. 2004). The country has therefore instituted a "'habitual residence test'" (ibid.; Ireland 10 May 2004; EU n.d.a). This test will be the precondition to receive social assistance or child benefits (EU Presidency 2 Mar. 2004). This precondition "will apply to all EU members including Irish citizens and not just those from accession countries" (ibid.; see also Ireland 10 May 2004). According to Mary Coughlan, the precondition exists for the purpose of "securing and protecting the social welfare system" (NCCRI 5 Mar. 2004; see also EU Presidency 2 Mar. 2004). It is also to prevent "welfare shopping," which is described as the moving of a person from a new accession country to an old EU country like Ireland, in order to access the best social welfare system (NCCRI 5 Mar. 2004).

For the purposes of the habitual residence test, the burden of proof falls upon the applicant (Ireland 10 May 2004; Ireland 2 June 2004). Accordingly, the person is required to prove that he or she has been a resident of Ireland for a continuous period of two years (ibid.; EU Presidency 2 Mar. 2004). In addition to this requirement, there are five factors used to determine the habitual resident status of a person:

1 – Length and continuity of residence in a particular country

2 – Length and purpose of absence from Ireland

3 – Nature and pattern of employment

4 – Applicant's main centre of interest, and

5 – Future intention of applicant concerned as it appears from all the circumstances (Ireland 2 June 2004; see also Ireland 10 May 2004).

A resident of Ireland needs to pass this test to receive

Unemployment Assistance; Old Age (Non-Contributory) and Blind Pension; Widow(er)'s and Orphan's (Non-Contributory) pensions; One Parent Family Payment; Carer's Allowance; Disability Allowance; Supplementary Welfare Allowance (other than once-off exceptional and urgent needs payments), and Child Benefit (NCCRI 5 Mar. 2004; see also Ireland 2 June 2004; ibid. 10 May 2004).

Health Care

All EU nationals living in Ireland have the right to "receive the same level of health care as Irish citizens" (Ireland 13 Oct. 2002b).

Under EU law, EU nationals have "the right to go for treatment in other member states" (EU 21 Apr. 2004). A number of EU member states have introduced a health insurance card to facilitate access to health care for people who travel within the EU (ibid. 26 Mar. 2004). Ireland is one of 13 EU member states, including some new member states, to introduce this card (ibid.). The health insurance card replaces other documentation, which was used previously when an EU national temporarily travelling across the EU was in need of health care (ibid.).


Any EU national entitled to enter an institute of higher education in his or her home country, because he or she has graduated high school, is entitled to apply to university or college in Ireland (EU n.d.c). Each prospective student must also satisfy requirements of the university or college to which they are applying, as does any Irish citizen (ibid.). EU nationals must apply to university or college following the same processes and under the same deadlines as Irish citizens (ibid.). The Irish government offers some grants and scholarships to students from other EU member states (ibid.). Some technical colleges also offer some support to EU nationals (ibid.). "There are no tuition fees payable for students pursuing full-time undergraduate courses in approved third-level institutions" (ibid.).

EU member states, including Ireland, have established various programs to cooperate in the area of education (Eurydice 2003, Ch. 11). In Ireland these include the Socrates-Erasmus program to encourage "transnational co-operation between higher education institutions, promoting mobility for students and higher education teaching staff, and improving transparency and academic recognition of studies and qualification throughout the Union," the Minerva Action program which "promote[s] European co-operation in the field of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education" and the Comenius School Projects which foster cooperation between schools (ibid.).


"There are no restrictions on the purchase or rental of residential property" if a person is an EU national but not an Irish citizen (Ireland 13 Oct. 2002a).


According to Article 6B(2), of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2004, a person is entitled to citizenship in Ireland if they are

a national of (a) a Member State (other than the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), (b) a state (other than a Member State) that is a contracting party to the EEA Agreement, or (c) the Swiss Confederation, makes a statutory declaration that he or she has resided in the island of Ireland for such period as is stated in that declaration, he or she shall ... be regarded as having been resident in the island of Ireland (i) for that period, if during the entire of that period he or she was a national of a Member State, an EEA state or the Swiss Confederation, or (ii) if he or she was such a national for part only of that period, for that part of the period, unless the contrary is proved (Ireland n.d.b).

In addition, the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2004 states that a person born to non-nationals who have been living in Ireland for at least three of the four years before the birth will also be entitled to Irish citizenship (ibid., Sec. 6A(1)).

Refugee claims/asylum applications in Ireland

Refugee claims applications in Ireland are regulated by the Refugee Act of 1996, which was amended in 1999, 2000 and 2003 (Ireland n.d.c). The Refugee Act of 1996 was amended in 2003 to bring about the following changes:

[A]pplicants for asylum who are nationals of a designated [as safe] country [of origin] will continue to have a merits consideration of their applications, but it will be for each applicant to rebut the presumption that they are not in need of refugee protection. Appeals in such cases will be dealt with by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal on the basis of papers alone rather than an oral hearing (ibid. n.d.a).

A country of origin is determined to be safe if it is "party to the most important international human rights instruments, ... has a democratic political system and an independent judiciary, ... and is governed by the rule of law" (ibid.). On 15 September 2003 the ten accession countries were designated as safe countries of origin (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


European Union (EU). 21 April 2004. "Healthcare Cooperation: Patients to Benefit from New Commission Proposals." [Accessed 30 Sept. 2004]
_____. 26 March 2004. "More Europe in Your Pocket the European Health Insurance Card." [Accessed 30 Sept. 2004]
_____. n.d.a. "Free Movement of Workers to and from the New Member States – How Will It Work in Practice?" [Accessed 29 Sept. 2004]
_____. n.d.b. "General Information on Community Law." [Accessed 1 Oct. 2004]
_____. n.d.c. "Higher Education: Useful Information on National Provisions." [Accessed 30 Sept. 2004]
_____. n.d.d. "Non-Discrimination on Grounds of Nationality." [Accessed 28 Sept. 2004]
_____. n.d.e. "Welcome to New EU Citizens." [Accessed 28 Sept. 2004]

European Union (EU) Presidency. 2 March 2004. "Ireland Welcomes EU Workers but Blocks Welfare Abuse with Two-Year Rule." Press Release. [Accessed 28 Sept. 2004]
_____. 24 February 2004. "Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Coughlan, to Announce New Social Welfare Code Restrictions for Ireland." Press Release. [Accessed 28 Sept. 2004]

Eurydice. 2003. "The Education System in Ireland (2001/2002): The European Dimension of Education." [Accessed 1 Oct. 2004]

Ireland. 2 June 2004. Department of Social and Family Affairs (DSFA). "Habitual Residence Condition." [Accessed 28 Sept. 2004]
_____. 1 June 2004. Oasis. "Right to Vote in Ireland." [Accessed 30 Sept. 2004]
_____. 10 May 2004. Oasis. "Residency Requirements for Social Assistance in Ireland." [Accessed 30 Sept. 2004]
_____. 4 May 2004. Oasis. "Working in Ireland." [Accessed 30 Sept. 2004]
_____. 24 March 2003. Department of Enterprise, Trade and Development (DETE). "Tánaiste Announces New Immigration Rules for Accession Countries." [Accessed 28 Sept. 2004]
_____. 13 October 2002a. Oasis. "Accommodation and Housing in Ireland." [Accessed 29 Sept. 2004]
_____. 13 October 2002b. Oasis. "Health Care in Ireland." [Accessed 29 Sept. 2004]
_____. 6 February 2002. Oasis. "Residence Rights of EU Nationals in Ireland." [Accessed 30 Sept. 2004]
_____. n.d.a. Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (DJELR). "Developments in Irish Asylum Policy." [Accessed 6 Oct. 2004]
_____. n.d.b. Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (DJELR). "Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2004."

[Accessed 5 Oct. 2004]
_____. n.d.c. Office of Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC). "The Asylum Process." [Accessed 5 Oct. 2004]

National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI). 5 March 2004. "Proposed Changes in the Social Welfare Code Arising from EU Enlargement." [Accessed 29 Sept. 2004]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Delegation of the European Commission to Canada, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Government of Ireland), Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (Government of Ireland), Government of Ireland.

Oral sources: The Delegation of the European Commission to Canada. The Refugee Documentation Centre of the Legal Aid Board, Dublin. The Embassy of Ireland in Ottawa.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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