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PASSPORT SERVICES TO BE CONSIDERED ESSENTIAL UNDER NEW PLANS BROUGHT TO CABINET

Today, new proposals will be brought to Cabinet by the Minister for Foreign Affairs which will deem the production of passports an essential service.

The majority of passport services have been suspended since December in line with the Level 5 restrictions.

It is planned that the Minister will ask the Cabinet to consider passport services an essential service in order to allow the backlog to be efficiently cleared.

Approximately 89,000 people have been affected by delays in the processing of passport applications including 44,000 domestic applications and 45,000 from outside the State.

The issuing of a passport to Irish citizens is provided for under the Passports Act 2008 which states:

‘a person who is an Irish citizen and is, subject to this Act, thereby entitled to be issued with a passport.’

Berkeley Solicitors therefore believes that the failure to issue passports to Irish citizens is contrary to this Act.

This matter is of great concern and Berkeley Solicitors has received many queries from those who have been unable to receive a passport for travel or identification purposes.

In deeming the production of passports an essential service, it is hoped that this backlog can be cleared in a matter of weeks.

Berkeley Solicitors are happy to see this news today and we hope that it will benefit those who have been affected.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE ANNOUNCES EU TREATY RIGHTS AND DOMESTIC RESIDENCE APPLICATIONS CAN BE SUBMITTED ELECTRONICALLY DURING COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS

On 15th January 2021, the Department of Justice published an updated notice regarding the submission of certain immigration applications during Covid-19 restrictions.

The notice confirms that as a temporary measure between Monday 18th January 2021 and Friday 30th April 2021, both EU Treaty Rights and Domestic Residence applications can be submitted by email with copies of supporting documentation.

In normal circumstances these applications need to be submitted by post with hard copy documents.

Any original documentation that is required for the application may need be submitted by post at a later date. The notice further states that documents should be submitted in PDF format.

This is a welcome development which will simplify the application process during the current Covid-19 lockdown.

The full notice can be read here.

If you have queries about EU Treaty Rights and Domestic Residence applications, please do not hesitate to contact the office.

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE ANNOUNCES NEW TEMPORARY PROCESS FOR GRANTING CITIZENSHIP DURING COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS

On 18th January 2021, the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee announced a new temporary process for the granting of citizenship during Covid-19 restrictions.

In normal circumstances, successful applicants are required to attend a citizenship ceremony in order to obtain a certificate of nationality.

However, citizenship ceremonies have been suspended since March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the new temporary system, qualifying applicants will be asked to complete a statutory declaration that will be emailed to them by the Citizenship Division of the Department of Justice. They will be required to bring the statutory declaration to one of the listed designated officials who will witness the applicant sign the statutory declaration.

The applicant must then send the signed statutory declaration, the appropriate fee and any other requested documentation to the Department’s Citizenship Division. A certificate of naturalisation signed by the Minister for Justice will then be sent to the applicant.

This new system is in place from 18th January 2021.

Commenting on the new system, the Minister stated Minister McEntee said:

“The granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is a privilege and an honour which is recognised by the thousands of people who apply every year. I am pleased that we can now bring some certainty to the people whose applications have effectively been on hold during the pandemic.

Approximately 4,000 applicants have not been able to receive a certificate of naturalisation due to the temporary suspension of citizenship ceremonies. The process I am opening today means that certificates can now be granted again, once the signed and witnessed statutory declaration and relevant fee has been received by my Department.”

The Department of Justice will be in contact with qualifying applicants regarding the requirements on a phased basis over the next few months until in-person citizenship ceremonies are able to recommence.

The Department stated that the 4,000 applicants currently waiting on naturalisation will have been provided with an opportunity to gain citizenship by the end of March.

The Minister also commented that in-person ceremonies are provisionally scheduled to resume in December 2021.

In addition to this, Minister McEntee outlined some additional digital measures that she intends to implement in order to simplify the naturalisation process:

“I am putting the Justice Sector on a Digital First footing and will move our services away from old, paper-based systems.

Plans for the digitalisation of the naturalisation process are well advanced, through increased digital and ICT investment. As part of this process, eTax-clearance for citizenship applicants has been introduced. Online payments have been trialled for applications from minors and the process is currently being rolled out to adult applications on a phased basis.”

If you have any queries about the naturalisation process, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

FURTHER EXTENSION OF IMMIGRATION PERMISSIONS AND CLOSURE OF BURGH QUAY REGISTRATION OFFICE ANNOUNCED

On 22nd December 2020, the Minister for Justice and Equality published a notice announcing a further temporary extension of immigration and international protection permissions. This extension applies to immigration and international protection permissions to reside in the State that are due to expire between 21st January 2021 and 20th April 2021.

It applies to all persons with a current valid permission, whether pursuant to domestic law or powers of the Minister, or pursuant to Directive 2004/38/EC (the EU Free Movement Directive).

All such permissions are automatically renewed by the Minister to the 20th April 2021.

Any permission that was renewed by the previous notices and was due to expire between 21st January 2021 and 20th April 2021 is automatically renewed by this notice until 20th April 2021.

It was also announced that due to the recently introduced Covid-19 restrictions, the Burgh Quay Registration Office will close from the 23rd December 2020 until further notice. An online system for renewal of permissions commenced in July 2020 for those resident in Dublin. Only first-time applicants are required to attend Burgh Quay in person.

However, significant delays have been reported and many applicants are being forced to wait several weeks or months for their renewal to be processed, or to receive an appointment for first-time registration.

This backlog may ultimately result in applicants having a gap in their immigration permission and falling undocumented, which could negatively impact future renewals or applications for citizenship. This is extremely concerning and intensifies what is already a stressful process for persons seeking to register or renew their immigration permission.

The notice can be read in full here.

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

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE ANSWERS PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS RELATING TO EU TREATY RIGHTS REVIEW APPLICATIONS

On Tuesday 22nd September 2020, Holly Cairns TD put a number of parliamentary questions to the Minister for Justice relating to EU Treaty Rights review applications.

Deputy Cairns asked the Minister to provide details of the immigration status given to individuals that are waiting for a decision on EUTR review applications, and further asked if persons that are waiting for an EUTR review decision are permitted to work or to claim Covid-19 pandemic emergency payments.

In response to these questions the Minister stated as follows:

“A person who applies for a Residence Card on the basis of being a Qualified Family Member (QFM) of an EU National will generally be granted a Temporary Stamp 4 (TS4) of 6-9 months duration, on application, pending the processing of their application. A TS4 enables a person to live and work in the State.

If their application is refused, and they apply for a Review of this decision, another Temporary Stamp 4 will generally be issued to them, pending the Review application being processed, and a final review decision issuing. A successful QFM applicant at either application stage or Review stage will be issued a Residence card of 5 years duration (Stamp 4 EUFam).

Permitted Family Member (PFM) applicants, unlike Qualified Family Member applicants, are not issued with a temporary stamp on application or review. If a PFM applicant is deemed to be a PFM of an EU Citizen exercising their Treaty Rights, under the terms of the Directive, either when their application is processed, or when their review decision is processed, they will be issued a Residence Card of 5 years duration. (Stamp4 EUFam).

Anyone who has lost their job as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic can apply to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.”

Deputy Cairns also asked the Minister to provide details of the pending EUTR review applications according to nationality in tabular form.

The Minister confirmed that there are currently 2,142 review applications being processed in respect of 91 different nationalities. A table detailing the number of applications and the nationalities of the applicants was also published and can be accessed here.

The questions put to the Minister and the answers given can be read in full here and here.

If you or a family member have any queries about an EU Treaty Rights application, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

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.

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.

INIS ANNOUNCES REOPENING OF REGISTRATION OFFICES OUTSIDE DUBLIN

Following three months of closures due to Covid-19 restrictions, INIS has announced that Registration Offices outside Dublin will be reopening on a phased basis in line with the Government roadmap.

The INIS website has published a list of opening dates in respect of individual registration offices.

Many are due to open between 20th July 2020 and 15th August 2020, however a number have yet to confirm a reopening date.

The full notice, which details the opening dates of individual offices, can be read here.

Email addresses for each registration office are provided for queries and the arranging of appointments.  INIS has advised that persons wishing to register or renew should contact the Immigration Officer on the email address provided prior to attending at a Garda Station as individuals without an appointment will not be seen.

IMMIGRATION SERVICE DELIVERY ANNOUNCES POLICY CHANGE ON EXTENSION OF ENTRY VISAS DUE TO COVID-19

The Immigration Service Delivery has issued an updated set of frequently asked questions in relation to Covid-19 and its effects on immigration services in the State.

The document now states that individuals who were recently issued  D category entry visas (prior to 15th March 2020) and who were unable to travel to Ireland during the validity dates of their visa as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, may now apply to amend dates on the approved visa.

The previous position of the Immigration Service Delivery was that such individuals would have to submit new visa applications in the event that they could not travel to Ireland within the validity dates of their visa.

The relevant section states as follows:

“Q 5. What facility will be put in place if I am currently outside Ireland and was recently granted a C or D entry visa for Ireland but I am now unable to come to Ireland during the validity period of my entry visa due to travel restrictions? Can my entry visa be extended or will I have to submit a new visa application?

A. In the case of Long Stay visas issued prior to 15th March 2020 where an applicant was not in a position to travel to Ireland because of the COVID-19 situation, it may be possible to amend the dates on the approved visa. Once we resume accepting visa applications, you should contact the Irish Embassy or Consulate that issued the visa to you.

In the case of Employment/Volunteer/Minister of Religion/Study visas, you should be able to show the Embassy that the reason for your travel to Ireland still applies, before consideration could be given to amending the visa that was issued to you.

Anyone who was issued a Short Stay visa during the same period but was similarly unable to travel to Ireland because of the COVID-19 situation will need to make a new visa application when normal visa processing resumes. However, depending on the period of time that has passed and the circumstances of the particular case, if you decide to re-apply we will consider waiving the fee for the new application.”

Given the long processing times for new visa applications, we at Berkeley Solicitors welcome this development.

The full document can be read here.

If you have any queries about applying for an Irish visa, 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.