The “Special Structural Vulnerability” within Migrant 
Agricultural Work: A Case Study of the Irish Agri-Food 
Workers Scheme

Charles O'Sullivan, Cliodhna Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The potential for labour exploitation of migrant workers, particularly those working in precarious sectors such as fishing and agriculture, has received increasing attention in recent times. Nonetheless, the detailed architecture of specific work permit regimes and the process of their construction and reform remain under-explored in the legal literature, particularly at the national level. This article examines these issues through a critical assessment of the process of development of the first dedicated migration route for non-EEA workers to enter the agricultural and agri-food industry in Ireland (referred to here as the “agri-food workers scheme”). Utilising a doctrinal legal analysis— supplemented by previously unavailable internal policy documentation, communications and other materials—the article situates the Irish regulatory approach to migration for agricultural and seasonal work in its European context. It finds that, while the Irish State recognises in principle the potential for exploitation of low-waged migrant workers, including those in the agri-food sector, it continues to rely on soft-touch regulation and the contested assumption that ordinary employment laws and policies operate effectively to protect such migrant workers. This is also evident in the State’s reluctance to sign up to the EU Seasonal Workers Directive. In this way, the State continually fails to address the “special structural vulnerabilities” that exist among such migrants, despite ample warnings of the potential dangers of such an approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-72
Number of pages23
JournalIrish Jurist
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 9 Dec 2022


  • migration
  • third-country
  • employment permits
  • structural vulnerability
  • social welfare


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Agricultural Work: A Case Study of the Irish Agri-Food 
Workers Scheme'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

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