24. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to amend the Refugee Act 1996 to allow asylum seekers here to work, particularly in view of the well documented negative effects of enforced unemployment, which according to the HSE can compound mental health issues with boredom, depression, sense of isolation and loss of self esteem; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40429/16]


Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Section 9(4)(b) of the Refugee Act 1996, provides that applicants for international protection shall not seek or enter employment or carry on any business, trade or profession during the period before the final determination of their application. This legislation is being replaced by the International Protection Act 2015, which is expected to be commenced on 31 December, 2016. There has been no change in the policy in this respect in the new Act.
There is an effective visa and immigration system in place for those who wish to lawfully migrate to the State for employment purposes. The key concern in this regard is that both the asylum process and the wider immigration system would be undermined by giving people who secure entry to the State, on foot of claims to asylum yet to be determined, the same access to employment as legal immigrants who follow the lawful route to employment.
The McMahon Working Group which included representatives of the HSE considered this matter in detail and did not recommend a right to work as a remedy to the experiences of people remaining for long periods in a cumbersome and sequential applications process. The Report instead sought to tackle the causes of delay. The International Protection Act 2015 provides for the introduction of a single application procedure for international protection, which is specifically aimed at addressing the length of time persons spend in the protection process. The new procedure will streamline and speed up the processing of protection applications, allowing all relevant matters to be submitted at the time of application for consideration. This will significantly reduce the length of time that persons spend awaiting a decision on their protection application. This will bring certainty of status at a much earlier stage to qualified applicants. Any applicant subsequently granted refugee status is entitled to enter the labour market. This significant reform addresses directly the situation raised by the Deputy.