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DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE ANNOUNCES FURTHER RESUMPTION OF VISA SERVICES

On 25th September 2020, the Department of Justice published an announcement on its website confirming that it has recommenced issuing decisions for certain visa categories.

Due to Covid-19, the Department had been issuing decisions in respect of the Emergency/Priority categories of visas only.

The announcement states as follows:

“We can now confirm that we have also recommenced issuing decisions on certain long-stay visas which include categories such as Third level study at primary degree and postgraduate level, Employment and Join Family.

You should note that while we continue to accept applications for English Languages studies, decisions on applications from new students will remain on hold pending further consideration by the relevant authorities.”

It remains the position that we are not accepting any short stay visa applications, except for cases that fall under the Emergency/Priority criteria.”

The Department further announced that it has expanded the list of exemptions which fall under Emergency/Priority to include those specific categories of travellers, identified as having an essential function or need in the EU Council Recommendation (EU) 2020/912 of 30 June 2020.

The full notice can be read here.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE PUBLISHES NOTICE FOR NON-EEA FAMILY MEMBERS OF BRITISH CITIZENS WHO ARE RESIDING IN IRELAND

On 17th September 2020, the Department of Justice published an updated notice regarding the status of non-EEA family members of British citizens who are residing in Ireland.

The Brexit transition period is due to end on 31st December 2020.

The notice states as follows:

From the end of the transition period, non-EEA family members of British citizens that are newly resident in Ireland will not come within the scope of the EU Free Movement Directive. A separate preclearance scheme will apply to such persons seeking to reside in the State, and they should be in possession of a valid travel document and, if required, an Irish entry visa or transit visa for the State.”

We at Berkeley Solicitors welcome this update but the lack of clarity is concerning. The notice does not provide any information as to what will happen to applicants who have pending EUFam residence card applications that remain undetermined by 31st December 2020.

Our clients still do not have confirmation of what immigration rules and financial thresholds will be applied to residence/ pre clearance applications from the family members of British citizens after the 31st December 2020.

While the notice states that a separate preclearance scheme will apply to such persons seeking to reside in the State after the end of the transition period, details of the new preclearance scheme have not yet been announced.

We are also aware that a large number of residence applications for non-EEA family members of British citizens are taking considerably longer than six months to be determined. This is of great concern as the Minister is breaching the obligation to determine these applications within a six-month timeframe, thereby putting British citizens and their family members at risk that they may be refused after the 31st December 2020.

The full notice can be read here.

If you or your family are impacted by these issues please do not hesitate to contact the office.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE AND EQUALITY ANNOUNCES FURTHER EXTENSION OF IMMIGRATION PERMISSIONS

The Minister for Justice and Equality has today announced a further temporary extension of immigration and international protection permissions until the 20th January 2021.

This is the fifth automatic extension of immigration permissions announced and applies to permissions due to expire between 20th September and 20th January 2021, along with those whose permission was previously extended under the four previous notices since the 20th March 2020.

Minister McEntee has said that:

I am providing certainty to anyone who already holds a valid permission that your legal status in this country is maintained until 20 January 2021.

This gives you the necessary time to make arrangements with the Immigration Service in Dublin or An Garda Síochána outside Dublin to ensure that your registration is renewed in the normal way by that date. You can do so without the additional worry of falling out of permission in the meantime through no fault of your own. I encourage you to do so at the earliest opportunity.”

The notice also clarifies that this is expected to be the final extension of permissions announced.

This is a welcomed announcement which will remove much of the unnecessary worry for those whose residence permissions are expiring during the current Covid 19 crisis.

The full announcement can be read in full here

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE COMMENTS ON REGULARISATION OF STATUS FOR UNDOCUMENTED MIGRANTS IN IRELAND

On 26th June 2020, the new coalition government of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party endorsed the Programme for Government, which contains a commitment to regularise the status of undocumented migrants in Ireland.

In response to a Parliamentary Question put to her on 14th July 2020, the Minister for Justice has announced that a policy paper on this matter is currently being drafted by officials in the Department of Justice.

The Minister stated:

“The Programme for Government contains a commitment to create new pathways for long-term undocumented people and their dependents meeting specified criteria to regularise their status within 18 months of the formation of the Government, bearing in mind European Union and Common Travel Area commitments. Ireland along with other Member States of the EU, has committed, under the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum (2008), to a case-by-case approach as opposed to mass regularisation.

A policy paper on the matter is being drafted by my officials at the present time. This will include an assessment of international best practices.

In all cases, people must engage with the authorities if they wish to be permitted to remain here legally. I would encourage any person who is resident in the State without permission to contact my Department or their local immigration office and to take all appropriate steps to regularise their own and their family’s status.”

At present there has been no final agreement on this scheme or how it would operate but the Government has committed to establishing such a scheme within the next 18-month period.

We at Berkeley Solicitors fully support the implementation of a scheme to regularise the status of undocumented migrants and will publish any future developments on this on our website.

If you or a family member have any queries about your immigration status, please do not hesitate contact our office.

Please be aware that no such scheme exists at present and no new application process is currently available.

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE ANNOUNCES BURGH QUAY REGISTRATION OFFICE TO REOPEN AND EXPANSION OF ONLINE REGISTRATION RENEWAL SYSTEM

On 7th July 2020 the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, announced that the Online Renewal system for immigration permissions will be expanded to allow all Dublin based non-nationals to apply online to renew their immigration registration.

It is expected that this will make the renewal process easier for thousands of people every year, and significantly reduce the number of people who need to attend the Burgh Quay Registration Office in person.

The online system will be made available from 7th July 2020 for those with an urgent need to travel and who require an Immigration Residence Permit (IRP) card before they travel.

Making the announcement, the Minister stated:

“I’m very pleased to be able to announce the expansion of our online Registration Renewal System. This is good news for our Dublin based customers because it makes the whole process easier and means they can do their renewal from the comfort of their own home instead of having to book an appointment to come into the city and attend Burgh Quay. 

 Now, all that applicants have to do is complete a form online, upload supporting documents, pay the fee and then submit their passport and current IRP card via registered post. This is much easier and quicker than the previous system, where it could sometimes be difficult to get an appointment.” 

The Minister also announced that the Burgh Quay Registration Office will reopen on 20th July 2020 for first time registration. As first-time registrations require biometrics to be taken, it is not possible to for these to be done online.

Individuals who had their first-time registration appointments cancelled when the Burgh Quay office closed in March due to Covid-19 restrictions will be prioritised once the office reopens. The Immigration Service Delivery will be contacting those affected to organise new appointments.

The full announcement can be read here.

If you or a family member have queries about your immigration permission, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

VISA SERVICES HAVE RESUMED FROM 22ND JUNE 2020

The Immigration Service Delivery, who process visa applications have confirmed that some visa services have resumed from the 22nd June 2020.

During this “initial resumption phase”, the ISD will be accepting Long Stay “D” visa applications which includes Study. This is in addition to the categories considered under the Priority/Emergency cases which include:

  • Emergency visa (e.g. Healthcare professionals, health researchers, and elderly care professionals);
  • Immediate family members of Irish citizens (who are returning to their ordinary place of residence in Ireland);
  • Persons legally resident in the State;
  • Persons entitled to avail of the provision of the EU Free Movement Directive;

This includes short stay visa application for the family members of EU nationals. However, the ISD have not yet resumed the issuance of short stay visas for non-essential travel.

The notice clarifies that in countries where it is not possible to resume visa services due to the differing restrictions which remain in place, the ISD intend to resume accepting applications as soon as it is possible to so.

Advice is given to contact the relevant Irish Embassy/Mission website for up to date information. Many embassies and VFS Global Services remain closed. Our office continues to work closely with our clients on a case by case basis to ensure that the submission of their visa application is facilitated.

This is a very encouraging development and if you or a family member have any queries about applying for an Irish visa, we would encourage anyone with queries to contact our office and we would be more than happy to advise.

The notice can be read in full here.

 

SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT ON FAMILY REUNIFICATION FOR NATURALISED REFUGEES: M.A.M. (SOMALIA) AND K.N. (UZBEKISTAN)

Berkeley Solicitors are delighted to congratulate our client who won her appeal in the Supreme Court today in the joint test cases of – M.A.M. (Somalia) v The Minister for Justice and Equality and K.N. (Uzbekistan) and Others v The Minister for Justice. The judgement of Mr Justice McMenamin was a unanimous judgement of the Supreme Court in favour of the appellants, and was delivered on the 19th June 2020.

The judgement is very significant as it affects not just the individual families taking the appeal, but approximately fifty other applicant families who have cases pending in the High Court holding list awaiting the outcome of this Supreme Court appeal.

The case arose from a challenge to the decision of the Minister for Justice to refuse family reunification to our client’s family members under The Refugee Act of 1996 (as amended). The sole reason for the Minister’s decision was the fact that our client had become an Irish citizen by naturalisation prior to her family reunification application, and the Minister held she was not therefore entitled to the family reunification rights as a refugee.

During the course of the proceedings, the Minister accepted that the Department of Justice had previously interpreted Section 18 of the 1996 Refugee Act to permit naturalised refugees to apply for family reunification for their family members, and this favourable scheme was in operation between 2010 and October 2017. The Minister also accepted that in October 2017, following new legal advices, the Minister commenced a new procedure to preclude naturalised refugees from applying for family reunification. This change in policy resulted in many naturalised refugees being refused family reunification during the period of 2017 and 2018, prior to the commencement of the family reunification provisions of the International Protection Act 2015.

The Minister argued that in order for a person to have rights to family reunification under Section 18 of the 1996 Act, not only must they hold a declaration confirming their refugee status, but they must also be a refugee in line with the definition of a refugee in Section 2 of the Act. As this definition requires a person to be outside their “country of nationality” to be a refugee, the Minister’s argument was that a refugee who becomes naturalised is no longer deemed to be a refugee as they are not outside their country of nationality, when that country becomes Ireland.

The Supreme Court disregarded this argument, holding that there was nothing to suggest in the Act that the appellants’ “country of nationality” had altered from Somalia and Uzbekistan to Ireland, as their well-founded fear of persecution remained  in those countries and not Ireland.

The Supreme Court carried out a detailed statutory interpretation exercise in respect of the 1996 Refugee Act, and highlighted the absurdities that would follow if a refugee with a declaration of refugee status would also have to be “deemed” to be a refugee in order to avail of the important rights of family reunification.

The court stated:

“The consequence of the interpretation urged by the Minister would be to create substantial legislative uncertainty when the purpose of the 1996 Act was to achieve clarity. The case advanced would run counter to the legislative aim of the Oireachtas, which was, by a carefully devised procedure defined in the Act, to identify one definitive “mark” of recognition to persons who were entitled to refugee status in this State, which, in turn, would grant them benefits and entitlements.”

In conclusion, the Supreme Court held as follows:

“This judgement concludes that the fact that the appellants became citizens did not deprive them of the right to apply for family reunification under s.18 of the 1996 Act.”

This is a very welcome decision from the Supreme Court, because it gives certainty to the definition of a refugee and the interpretation of the family reunification provisions in the 1996 Refugee Act.

In effect it means that all the decisions issued by the Minister during the period of 2017 and 2018 to refuse applications for family reunification under the 1996 Act because the sponsors were refugees who had naturalised as Irish citizens, were unlawful.

It also means that the decisions granting family reunification to naturalised refugees during the 2010 to 2017 period are lawful, bringing legal certainty to the status of countless families now settled in Ireland.

We would expect that Minister will now agree to withdraw these previous unlawful decisions refusing family reunification, and reconsider and re determine the applications in line with the Supreme Court’s judgement.

We welcome the clarity that this judgement brings and look forward to working with our clients to have the unlawful family reunification decisions withdrawn and re determined.

The full judgement can be read here.

We are happy to advise further to anyone believes they are affected by this judgement.

Berkeley Solicitors

SUPREME COURT DETERMINES DEFINITION OF A CHILD FOR PURPOSES OF FAMILY REUNIFICATION

The recent ruling of the Irish Supreme Court in X v Minister for Justice and Equality [2020] IESC 284, was delivered on 7th June 2020. The Supreme Court held that the definition of child for the purposes of Section 56(9) of the International Protection Act 2015 is confined to a biological or adopted child only.

The judgement overturns the finding in the High Court that the definition of child within the International Protection Act could include more far reaching interpretations of “child”, citing the variety and complexity of family relationships.

The Court highlighted the wording of the legislative provision, is “child of the sponsor”. The Court found that the clear reading of this provision limited the scope of children to biological and adopted children. The Court further noted that other children were excluded from the definition of family members for immigration purposes including children over the age of 18. The Court found that the provisions of Section 56(9) where much more restrictive than its predecessor, The Refugee Act 1996.

The Court also found that it would be wrong and incorrect of the Minister to request DNA evidence as a matter of course in respect of refugee family reunification applications. The Court did however find that were there was a legitimate reason or cause to doubt parentage or family relationship it can be an appropriate action of the Minister to request such evidence. The Court noted that the Minister does have guidelines with respect to DNA evidence in respect of D join family visa applications, but that it did not have guidelines in place in respect of refugee family reunification.   The Court noted that DNA goes to the heart of a person’s identity and should only be requested if there is no alternative method to resolve the issues at hand.

The Supreme Court allowed the Minister’s appeal and overturned the decision of the High Court.

If you have any queries regarding how this judgement may affect your application for family reunification, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

NO NEW VISA APPLICATIONS ACCEPTED BY INIS SINCE MARCH 2020

RTÉ News has reported that the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service has not accepted any new visa applications as of 20th March 2020 due to Covid-19.

A spokesperson from the Department of Justice was quoted as saying:

“While it will still be possible to apply for an Irish visa online in the normal manner, these temporary measures mean that applicants will not be able to complete their application process. However, any application made online will remain valid until such time as restrictions are lifted.”

VFS Global, which provides a wide range of visa-related services, has also closed many of its Visa Application Centres.

The VFS website states that Ireland has suspended visa services globally as of 23rd March 2020.

This is despite the fact that a limited category of “Priority/Emergency” visas are still being processed, as outlined in INIS notice issued on 21st March 2020. These include professionals, health researchers and elderly care professionals, immediate family members of Irish citizens who are returning to their ordinary place of residence in Ireland, persons legally resident in the State, and persons entitled to avail of the provisions of the EU Free Movement Directive.

In instances where the local Consulate or Embassy is unable to process visa applications falling within these categories due to local Covid-19 restrictions, the Department has arranged to accept visa applications in its Dublin Visa Office.

RTÉ News questioned whether the decision to cease accepting new visa applications since March 2020 was allowing any backlog of applications to be cleared, and asked the Department of Justice to clarify what the situation is today.

The Department responded:

“…it is not possible to state a total number of employment visa applications on hand at a specific point in time, be it December or now. This is because of the fact that visas are received and processed throughout our network of missions globally and not just at the office here in Dublin.”

The spokesperson for the Department also stated that the intention is to resume accepting visa applications as soon as it is safe to do so.

The article can be read in full here.

If you or a family member have any queries about applying for an Irish visa, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

POSSIBILITY OF GRANTING LEGAL STATUS TO UNDOCUMENTED MIGRANTS DISCUSSED AT GOVERNMENT TALKS

The Irish Independent has reported that a proposed scheme to regularise the status of undocumented migrants in Ireland has been discussed as part of Government formation talks between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.

According to the article, published by the Irish Independent on 21st May 2020, the parties are in talks to establish a scheme that would allow undocumented migrants in Ireland to apply to regularise their status. The parties proposed that the criteria for such a scheme would be set out within 18 months of the new Government taking office.

At present there has been no final agreement on this scheme and any developments on this matter would be dependent on Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party forming a coalition Government together.

It is estimated that there are currently 15,000-17,000 undocumented people living in Ireland, approximately 2,000 to 3,000 of whom are thought to be children. The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) states that 93% of undocumented migrants are in work, including as many as 29% who work as carers.  The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted that many undocumented migrants are employed as key essential workers, working in difficult and challenging situations to keep the country going during this ongoing crisis.

We at Berkeley Solicitors would fully support the implementation of a scheme to regularise the status of undocumented migrants and will publish any future developments on this on our website.

The full article can be read here.

If you or a family member have any queries about your immigration status, please contact our office.