Immigration and language policies in Ireland

By Fergus Dolan
National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA)
Dublin, Ireland

Working in Ireland

Citizens from the 10 EU accession states (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) which joined the EU in 2004 are entitled to work and travel in Ireland. Romanian and Bulgarian nationals (who joined the EU in 2007) can travel in Ireland without a visa and do not need to register with the immigration authorities. However the Irish Government has decided not to allow people who have entered the Republic of Ireland from Romania and Bulgaria after 1st January 2007 to work in Ireland without a permit. But, Romanian and Bulgarian nationals working in Ireland for more than a year before those countries joined the EU do not need a work permit.

Citizens from the European Economic Area (the ECA includes the countries of the European Union as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) are not required to register their presence with the immigration authorities and are allowed to work without an employment permit. Citizens from non-ECA countries need a work permit to work in Ireland.

ESOL students

ESOL learners now make up 30% of all learners accessing the adult literacy service in Ireland. There are no figures stating what percentage are ‘ESOL literacy’ students and what percentage are ‘ESOL language’ students. The government’s White Paper on Adult Education Learning for Life (2000) called for free language and literacy supports for immigrants.

Who is entitled to ESOL classes?

Most ESOL classes in Ireland are provided through the Vocational Education Committees (VECs). VECs adult literacy centres are located all around the country. VECs provide ESOL classes for immigrants, for example asylum seekers, refugees, non-EU citizens, citizens from the new EU accession states and migrant workers.


Most ESOL classes are provided free of charge, resources permitted. Some VECs charge a small fee for the ESOL classes.

Number of potential ESOL students in Ireland

The 2006 census records 419, 733 people as non-Irish.  When this figure is adjusted –discounting people 14 years of age and under and discounting people from traditional English speaking countries (UK, USA etc) - the numbers of adults from non-English speaking countries usually resident in Ireland is a quarter of a million (249,836).  There is no specific research which can provide an estimate of how many of these need language or literacy support. However, the EU average for participation in adult education is 10.8% (EU Communication on Adult Learning, October 2006), which suggests that a service enabling at least 25,000 should be planned for, at a cost of €20 million.