Any person experiencing domestic violence can encounter difficulties in reporting incidents, and in accessing support services and remedies. Immigrants face additional barriers, including, for example, language barriers, social isolation and lack of knowledge regarding available supports or remedies.
If you are living with domestic violence, and your permission to reside in Ireland is dependent on your relationship with your spouse or partner, we hope that you will find our guide to obtaining independent residency status following separation or domestic violence helpful.
Nasc is a member of the Domestic Violence Coalition, which is campaigning to remove the specific barrier to protection that is caused by the ‘dependent’ residence status of some migrants in Ireland.
The challenge to the Government involves two key matters that need to be reformed:
Providing formal recognition of domestic violence in immigration law by making provisions that enable dependant family members to apply to remain in Ireland as victims of domestic violence;
Pending the determination of applications to remain in Ireland, providing that victims of domestic violence can access safe emergency housing and essential welfare benefits to meet basic needs.
General background and immigration context: family life and ‘dependent’ residence status
The state sometimes permits the family members of Irish citizens and of people from outside of Europe to join their families in Ireland. People who get this kind of permission have what is called a ‘dependent’ residence status; that is to say, their permission to reside in Ireland has been granted solely because of their existing relationship with a family member in Ireland. The permission that is granted is temporary and must be renewed, usually annually. One of the conditions of renewal is that the relationship still exists.
Unlike Ireland, most EU countries provide for the granting of an independent residence permit to a family member after a time.
The current approach to domestic violence in the Irish immigration system
Any individual residing in Ireland can ask the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) to change his or her immigration status, which the INIS can decide to do if they so wish (that is to say, on a ‘discretionary’ basis).
Where domestic violence is documented, it is the experience of the organisations in the Domestic Violence Coalition that such applications receive very positive and humane consideration, and that they are dealt with quickly.
If you are in this position, or know someone who is, please do not hesitate to contact us for assistance. We have also prepared a self-help “Guide to obtaining independent residency status for immigrants experiencing domestic abuse”, which you can access here.
The issue: a hidden remedy and its consequences
The Domestic Violence Coalition is concerned that while there may be a remedy – it is currently a hidden remedy.
At present, the Department does not provide any information as to what information is needed by decision-makers to assess an application for independent residence status, or even indicate that such an application can be made. In fact, not only is the remedy hidden, but explicit information is provided on the INIS website that indicates there is no possibility of addressing the situation. The website states in relation to those who are resident in Ireland on the basis of a marriage to an Irish national: there are no rights of retention of residence in the event of separation/divorce. Similarly those in a de-facto relationship with Irish and non-EEA nationals are informed that there are no rights of retention of residence in the event of separation.
The lack of clarity can have devastating consequences:
- Many lawyers and other advocates are not aware of the remedy, so women who seek help may not find it
- Some women have been advised to seek asylum, or to do nothing, in order to avoid deportation
- Other agencies and service-providers are not aware of the policy either; as a result, women who seek shelter from a refuge or who ask for an emergency welfare payment while their application is being assessed are often refused
- Women have returned to violent homes due to destitution, and fear of deportation and losing access to their Irish resident children.
1. We are asking the Department of Justice and Equality (and more particularly the INIS) to publish a statement of its policy on its website as a first step. This is something that can be done very quickly and that will let migrants know that there is a way to escape from domestic violence.
2. More generally, the Department of Social Protection and the INIS should introduce a co-ordinated policy to respond to this issue, which would ensure that women in these situations do not find themselves homeless and destitute.
3. In the longer term, Ireland should introduce new laws to deal with this issue. The Minister for Justice is expected to publish a new immigration bill soon; this provides an ideal opportunity to protect the family members of immigrants in Ireland, and to legislate for family unity more generally (our page about Family Unity explains how the family unity of immigrants is not provided for in Irish law).
Progress so far
- The Domestic Violence Coalition provided a briefing session to TDs and others on March 5 2012
- Deputy Anne Ferris, TD, spoke at the event, and published a statement on the Labour Party website: “Immigration Bill must address domestic violence against migrant women”
- The Irish Examiner published an article: Campaign seeks changes to the law to protect migrant women on March 7 2012
- On March 13 2012, TDs Seán Crowe, David Stanton and Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister some very relevant questions in the Dáil about the proposed reforms. In response, the Minister stated:
I am very anxious to ensure that if any individuals are a victim of domestic violence or are threatened with domestic violence, they will know this flexibility exists and that appropriate arrangements can be made…. Where someone is a victim of domestic violence and has obtained a protection, a safety or a barring order from the courts, this is clear evidence to provide to the INIS, if that person requires a separate visa facility, as it establishes clearly the person has been victimised in the way described and would be of great assistance in addressing the issue. However, it is not essential to have a court order in these circumstances as each case will be dealt with individually. Insofar as there are communication deficiencies in that regard and insofar as there is any doubt on the issue, I will ensure it is made known and will discuss that matter with the officials in my Department.
(You can read the full text of the questions and answers here)
- UPDATE: In August 2012, Nasc welcomed the publication of guidelines on the INIS website which contain information on dealing with cases where a person who is a victim of domestic violence wishes to obtain immigration status independent of their relationship with the perpetrator. We remain concerned about the lack of clarity in these guidelines and will continue to campaign for legislation and enhancement of the guidelines.
The Domestic Violence Coalition consists of the following organisations:
If you are interested in supporting this campaign, or would like any further information, please don’t hesitate to contact us – just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.