The Immigrant Council of Ireland, as part of the Domestic Violence Coalition, has called on the Government to introduce new laws formally recognising the issue of domestic violence in Irish immigration law. Approximately 10% of the Immigrant Council’s overall caseload involved domestic violence however the Council noted in its submission to the Oireachtas Justice Committee that many victims may not be coming forward for fear that it could impact on their right to remain in Ireland. This fear, coupled with administrative barriers and lack of access to safe emergency housing, can leave people vulnerable to threats, abuse and violence.
In addition to legislative action, the Council called for short term measures to be taken in the form of a coordinated administrative response by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, the Department of Social Protection and the Health Service Executive. It also welcomed a policy clarification issued by INIS in 2012 regarding the possibility of applying for an independent residency permit for non-EEA nationals who are experiencing domestic violence.
However the Council noted the shortfalls of this guidance, namely its reliance on discretion and the lack of clarity as to what type of status would be granted or the likely processing time for the application. It also cautioned that the €300 fee required for a Garda National Immigration Bureau certificate of registration that is paid after a successful application, was a serious barrier to applicants since many would previously have been financially dependant on their abuser and would therefore struggle to pay the fee. The Council emphasised the importance of continuing social welfare payments for eligible non-EEA victims of domestic violence regardless of the stage of their immigration application and regardless of their current immigration status.
The Council also suggested that the UK experience of introducing and refining a domestic violence concession could provide useful guidance in both the legislative and administrative context. This includes a wide definition of domestic violence, equal application to male and female partners, married and unmarried couples and to opposite and same sex relationships. Fee exemptions, legal aid and flexibility regarding evidentiary requirements were also suggested. Importantly being undocumented should not prohibit making an application as the time taken to appreciate or be advised that there is a remedy available may mean that leave has expired in many cases.
In their submissions the Council also urged the Irish government to sign and ratify the Council Of Europe 2011 Convention on Combating and Preventing Violence against Women and Domestic Violence which has already been signed by 26 members of the Council of Europe.