Citizenship applicants left living in limbo
Many migrants applying for Irish citizenship by naturalisation find the process unjust, the rules unclear and the lengthy processing times – measuring years – an enormous strain, according to research released today by the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI).
The ICI today released the report, “Living in Limbo – Migrants’ Experiences of Applying for Naturalisation in Ireland”, written by the organisation’s senior solicitor Catherine Cosgrave and prepared in collaboration with Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre in Cork.
The research examines the experiences of 315 migrants from more than 60 countries and a wide variety of backgrounds. Twenty-two in-depth case studies were undertaken for the research.
“Two main themes emerged in terms of migrants’ motivation for applying for Irish citizenship,” Ms Cosgrave said. “For many, they wanted to formalise their sense of having made a new home in Ireland by becoming more fully a member of our community.
“However, the research also showed that many migrants were applying for citizenship to obtain a secure and permanent immigration status. This is a direct result of Ireland’s immigration system for non-EU citizens being based primarily on issuing temporary residence permissions, with many of these types of permissions granted at the discretion of the Minister for Justice.
“Our research showed the processing times for applications ranged from an exceptional, one-off example of five months, through to 54 months, with many migrants reporting that they have waited far longer than the average times cited by authorities. Migrants reported that the lengthy waiting time caused them great stress and anxiety.
“The research also revealed a variety of apparent injustices in the way applications are dealt with, from people waiting three years for a decision, only to have their applications refused because of a change of rules introduced while they waited, through to deferrals of decisions so that the Minister could determine whether an applicant remained of good character in the meantime.
“This research makes the need for urgent reform and the introduction of clear and fair rules abundantly clear,” Ms Cosgrave said.
“While the new Government has promised to provide for more efficient processing of citizenship applications, reform must go much further to ensure our approach is fair and transparent.”
ICI founder and board member Sr Stan Kennedy said Ireland’s approach to granting citizenship to migrants reflected a resistance to truly accepting that immigration is a permanent reality in this country.
“Once we truly accept that Ireland will continue to be a diverse society in a generation’s time, it becomes immediately apparent that we need to take stock of our current approach to immigration and integration laws and policies,” Sr Stan said.
“While other countries encourage migrants to become citizens in order to share those countries’ values, Ireland could be seen to be using the process and its injustices as a way to prevent people from becoming citizens.
“The impact of this approach isn’t just manifesting itself in the constant insecurity migrants can feel about their ability to continue living in the country they now consider home, but also can be felt in other ways that could lead to a permanently segregated class of people in this country.
“For example, refusing a migrant citizenship on unjust or disproportionate grounds could prevent their children being able to access third-level education, even if their entire schooling was undertaken in this country.
“It is my hope that this research will help all of us see the value of actively encouraging migrants who have made this country home to become citizens of Ireland, to become fully recognised members of our society and to share our values and vision for the future.”
Nasc chief executive officer Fiona Finn said the research project made a number of recommendations for workable reform.
“Firstly, the Government should introduce a permanent residence status, currently only available to EU citizens, for non-EU citizens also. Citizenship should not be perceived as the only viable means of overcoming the stress and strain of living on temporary residence permissions year after year,” Ms Finn said.
“In terms of the citizenship process itself, we make a number of commonsense recommendations, based on best practice, such as providing clear rules for applicants, ensuring reasons are given if an application is refused, providing access to an independent appeals mechanism and allowing migrants to apply for their children at the time they apply.
“Crucially, migrants who fulfil fair and transparent criteria should have an entitlement to be granted permanent residence or Irish citizenship.”
Riaz moved to Ireland with his wife and four children 15 years ago. They applied for asylum on arrival and, after three years, were granted humanitarian leave to remain.
He and his wife first applied for citizenship in 2005. Their applications were refused two years later on the basis that they apparently did not fulfil the five years’ residence criteria when they applied. Riaz is confident that they did fulfil the criteria. However, after being informed they could not appeal, and rather than argue and delay, they simply re-applied in 2008. Three years later, they have no idea what stage their applications are at and are still waiting for a decision.
Riaz describes their experience as a very long and painful process. They would have liked to apply for their minor children to become citizens at the same time but they cannot do so until their own applications are approved. Their two older children applied as soon as they turned 18 and are also waiting for decisions.
Waiting for the decision has made life extremely difficult for his children’s third-level education. Although they have completed their primary and secondary education in Ireland, they are only eligible to attend university if they pay the fees that would be paid by EU students – and only on this basis if the college decides to waive the even higher international student fees.
Riaz’s eldest child completed all of his Leaving Certificate subjects with honours and secured a place on a third-level university course. Riaz and his wife spent their savings on his first year of third-level education but, although both are working, they could not afford to continue paying the required fees. His son had to drop out during his second year. Riaz believes his children’s education and future is entirely dependent on being granted citizenship.
Pierre, a refugee, came to Ireland as a teenager and has been living here for more than 10 years. He was granted citizenship last year. Before that, as a recognised refugee, Pierre had a temporary residence card, which he was required to renew annually.
Although Pierre was confident that his refugee status would always be renewed, having a temporary residence card and associated travel document did present difficulties. Last year, prior to receiving his citizenship decision, Pierre was made redundant after four years’ continuous employment in the financial services sector. While searching for a new job, his temporary residence card became due for renewal within a few weeks. He was refused a position by one employer who was concerned that his residence permission was too temporary and may not be renewed.
Making travel plans was almost impossible – his travel document was only valid for short periods of time and, even if it was recognised, by the time a visa was issued by the country he wanted to go to, his residence card and travel document might become due for renewal again within a few weeks. Pierre also found it embarrassing to explain to immigration officials everywhere why he wanted to travel and why he had no passport.
As a refugee he could not apply for a long-term residence permit but, in any event, he was keen to apply for citizenship. Although formally a citizen of the country he fled, as a refugee he was unable to carry a passport of that country or to travel there and, effectively, felt stateless. Pierre believed that citizenship of Ireland would reflect that this is now his home and country.
He first applied for citizenship shortly after he was granted refugee status but the application was rejected. Although he was resident during the three-year period in which he was waiting for a decision, he did not have three years’ residence as a refugee at the time of applying for citizenship. The letter refusing his application stated that this was the Minister for Justice’s policy – a policy which was apparently introduced whilst his application was pending and of which Pierre was unaware.
Pierre decided to re-apply in 2005. Three years later, in 2008, Pierre received a letter informing him that his application had been processed and that the Minister had decided to defer making a decision for 12 months. No explanation for this was given and he contacted the Department to try to clarify what was going on. He received no reply. Concerned not to undermine his application, Pierre decided not to pursue the matter.
After 12 months, when he did not receive a decision, he wrote a reminder enquiring about his application. Pierre did this every month until, five months later, he received a decision refusing his application on the grounds that he had allegedly come to the “adverse attention” of An Garda Síochána. On one occasion he had been questioned in relation to a particular incident and released without charge – he had been at college at the time the alleged offence occurred and CCTV footage showed the perpetrator was someone else. On another occasion, he was requested at a road check to bring his driver’s licence and insurance documents to a Garda Station, which he did.
The letter informing Pierre that his application was refused stated that he had no right of appeal. Pierre was depressed, stressed and angered by the whole process and the nature of the decision. Pierre instructed the ICI to seek an administrative review of the decision and, after another seven months, the decision was reversed.
Delighted to now be a citizen, Pierre nonetheless has very strong views that the entire system should be reformed. In his view, there is a lack of transparency or accountability and a failure to take account of the special needs of refugees.
The names and some personal information about the interviewees have been changed to protect their identities. However, all details such as processing times for immigration applications, information received by applicants during the processing of their application, the reasons for refusal to grant citizenship and so on are all factually accurate.
See www.immigrantcouncil.ie for more information