Pooja Sawant says she and her husband had a choice.
They could have gone to the United Kingdom or to Ireland, she says. But they chose here, because of the spouse permit, the Stamp 3, which made it look as if it would be simpler for her to find work here than there.
A page on the Department of Business’s website notes how spouse employment permits are there “to support the attractiveness” of Ireland to talented employees. “What about after the attraction? The marriage has to work,” she says.
Despite having her Stamp 3, which she thought would be enough, Irish employers have declined to hire her – she says they ask for a Stamp 4, instead.
She was an assistant professor back home, but here she is barred from working, stuck at home, trying to keep occupied by polishing up her housekeeping and cooking skills.
“I have thought about going back to India because I feel I can have no career here, and my husband can stay here if he wants,” says Sawant.
Sawant is not the only one who has faced this difficulty.
Shashank Chakerwarti, who set up Indian Youth Ireland and is chair of Dublin West for Young Fine Gael, has a dossier full of documents from others with Stamp 3 status or Stamp 1G status who have also been turned down by employers for that reason.
Those with Stamp 1G status are students from non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries, who have graduated from a university or college in Ireland.
The Stamp 1G gives them up to 24 months after graduation to find a job relevant to their studies and, once they have a job offer, to get an employment permit from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, by email.
“These people are well settled,” Chakerwarti says, and many have years of experience in IT and have paid to study here but – because they don’t have a Stamp 4 – they are being overlooked.
Those with Stamp 3 status are spouses or partners of people who have come to Ireland to work and have employment permits. The Stamp 3 holder can look for a job, and, once they have an offer, apply for a work permit and get to work.
They are “eligible to seek any employment and apply to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation for a Dependant/Partner/Spouse Employment Permit which is currently issued free of charge”, said a spokesperson for the Department of Justice.
Chakerwarti leafs through his dossier and highlights emails involving a man who went to three interviews with a company before having a back-and-forth over his stamp – and then being rejected.
“Even though they offered him the job,” Chakerwarti said. “And after that, they said no.”
The Department of Jobs is currently investing €1.9 million in its Tech/Life Ireland push to try to attract thousands to tech workers to Ireland.
Some of that funding should be diverted to raise awareness of the rights of people holding a Stamp 1G or a Stamp 3 who are already here, he says.
Richard Grogan, a solicitor specialising in employment law, says he believes that people are being excluded because of “ignorance”, rather than anything else.
Employers can struggle to understand stamps, he says. There’s no “idiot guide” for how to employ people from outside the EEA.
But if somebody on a Stamp 3 applies for a job, and sets out how the process and eligibility works, and they are still rejected, they might be able to take a case with the Workplace Relations Commission, he said.
“They may very well have an equality case” unless the employer can prove they have a legitimate reason, he says.
He hasn’t seen any cases like that yet. But “until there are cases taken, there will not be a change in attitude”, he says.
At the moment, there seems to be a rush of cases from older employees for age discrimination, so employers are training up on that. “If claims are not brought, employers don’t see it as a problem,” he said.
Grogan says there is a shortage of workers right now in Ireland. “Unfortunately we don’t have a history of understanding visas. It used to be that you just needed a work permit. It was relatively easy for employers to understand.”
Chakerwarti turns to his dossier to offer more evidence that jobseekers on stamps 1G and 3 are being told that they don’t have the right to work, even in cases where they do.
That includes a job advert posted by the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) in 2016, which opened its graduate scheme for 2017.
“Applicants must be eligible to work in Ireland – applications will be considered from non-EU nationals who are in possession of a current Stamp 4 visa,” the advert says.
A spokesperson for the agency said, by email, that “applications for the NTMA graduate programme will be considered from non-EU nationals who are lawfully entitled to work in Ireland”. He wouldn’t comment on whether that included those on a Stamp 3 or a Stamp 1G.
Jobseekers have sent Chakerwarti emails from consulting firms and companies, including Sigmar Recuitment, Morgan McKinley, Intercom and HP|Konnect.
Jamie Harnett, an associate director at Sigmar Recruitment, said that ultimately, they don’t make the decision on whether a candidate is considered for a role based on their visa status or stamp. “This is down to the individual company themselves”, he said.
“Companies tend to hire candidates with visa requirements themselves rather than through an agency, so we have no visibility on how many are hired or ruled out of process,” said Harnett.
A spokesperson for Morgan McKinley, a recruitment agency, said that Stamp 1G and Stamp 3 are not applicable in professional-services recruitment, citing permissions set out by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS).
Stamp 1G holders are recent graduates, so “our clients’ demand for candidates with this level of experience and visa requirement are not high typically”, they said.
The Stamp 3 conditions are that “you cannot work or engage in any business, trade or profession”, they said. (But, as the Department of Justice spokesperson said, those on Stamp 3 have the right to apply for a work permit free of charge.)
Among Chakerwarti’s documents are emails from the tech recruitment firm HP| Konnect asking if a candidate had an active work permit, and, specifically, a Stamp 4.
Another company, the software firm, Intercom, told a candidate that they would not be moving forward with her application, as they require someone with eligibility to work in Ireland – the candidate in question was on a Stamp 3.
Spokespeople for Intercom, and HP|Konnect, declined to comment.
So where does this mismatch between expectations and reality leave Stamp 1G or Stamp 3 holders?
“I am completely dependent on my spouse. For even, anything. Even buying a carton of milk, I can’t earn 75 cents in this country,” says Anuja Patwardhan.
Sawant says she was busy and independent in India but, despite applying for hundreds of jobs, she is now essentially a home-maker.
“My cooking skills have improved. My husband’s a happy man. For him it’s a good thing, for me it’s a bad thing because now I’m in charge of the kitchen,” she says.
“My husband says, ‘Before you came here, your rotis [flatbreads] were like a map of India and now they are like the moon.’”
[CORRECTION: This article was updated on 28 June at 15.42pm. Due to an editing error, Anuja Patwardhan’s name was spelt wrong. Apologies.]