More than 2,500 irregular immigrants received grants to leave State voluntarily

Scheme intended to fund travel expenses, counselling and education for failed asylum seekers and illegals

The Government has paid out more than €15 million in the last decade to failed asylum seekers and people illegally in the State to persuade them to return home.

Recipients of the payments, which are intended to cover travel expenses and some of the cost of reintegrating into society in their home country, include 57 people from the United States and 707 people from Brazil. The payments also cover counselling for returning migrants and money towards education or setting up small businesses in their home countries.

Under the voluntary return scheme, each person is entitled to a standard grant of €1,200 or €2,000 per family unit.

The purpose of the scheme is to save the Department of Justice and gardaí having to deport people who are not entitled to be in the country, a costly and often legally complex process.

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Prospective applicants are advised that the scheme is preferable to deportation as it includes financial support. Participants are also told they are free to legally return to Ireland at a later date and make a fresh asylum application. In contrast, people who are deported are automatically banned from the EU and Ireland.

Just over 3,200 people applied to the scheme between 2013 and 2023, of which 2,567 (80 per cent) were accepted, according to figures which were released following a Freedom of Information request.

“Voluntary return is an option open to persons who have no legal status in Ireland or those who have withdrawn their application for International Protection or had it refused,” the Department of Justice said on its website

Brazilian immigrants are by far the most likely to avail of the scheme, with 841 applying and 707 being accepted in the last decade. In 2023, 74 Brazilians applied and 71 were accepted.

Other nationalities who applied for the scheme since 2013 include Georgians (164 applicants), South Africans (182) and Mauritians (127).

There have also been applications from immigrants from wealthier countries including the US (83 applicants), Israel (31) and Australia (20).

There are significant differences in the acceptance rates between different nationalities. Ninety-five per cent of the 174 Malaysians who applied were given grants as were 86 per cent of Chinese applicants.

But just 64 per cent of the 70 Albanians who applied were accepted. None of the five Canadians or seven Afghans were successful in their applications.

Other nationalities who received payments to return home include Iranians (14), Iraqis (11) and Russians (12).

A total of 236 people received payments last year, or 72 per cent of applicants. This is roughly in line with previous years, except for during the Covid-19 pandemic when applicants dropped dramatically in line with reduced immigration flows.

The annual cost of the scheme, which is administered for the Department of Justice by the International Organisation for Migration, varied between €920,000 in 2015 and €2 million in 2018. Last year, €1.52 million was spent.

This covered administration costs, travel expenses, “pre-departure and post-return counselling”, medical costs and reintegration grants, the Department said.

In 2020, the standard grant for people taking part in the voluntary return scheme was increased from €600 to €1,200 and from €1,000 to €2,000 for families.

This followed a recommendation from a Government-appointed advisory group which reviewed the international protection process.

The group also recommended the time limit to accept entry into the voluntary return scheme be extended from five to 30 days and that children be allowed to finish the school year before having to depart with their families.

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