‘It’s Like I’m in a Prison’: Fears Citizenship Applications are Facing Years-Long Backlogs
Applicants waiting to receive Irish citizenship from the Department of Justice fear they could now be waiting years before their applications are approved following a High Court ruling in July.
In July, Mr Justice Max Barrett ruled in the Jones case that foreign nationals applying to become Irish citizens on the basis of their residence “must show a one-year period of residence in Ireland that is ‘unbroken, uninterrupted, connected throughout space or time”.
It threw the application process into chaos with applicants who travelled abroad in the last year – including crossing the border into Northern Ireland – worrying their applications are not eligible.
The ruling has been appealed in the courts and a judgement expected in the coming weeks.
Solicitor Carol Sinnott, whose client Roderick Jones is appealing the July ruling, said there have always been delays in processing applications despite the Department of Justice citing a wait time of around six months.
“At the moment, even before the Jones case, there has been massive delays in citizenship application. We have clients waiting for two-and-a-half years for a decision on their cases, which is horrendous and nothing to do with the Jones case.”
But with a backlog of applications expected as a result of the legal battle, and as applications have already seen longer than expected processing times, applicants say they fear it will be years before they are granted citizenship.
One Sudan-born man living in Ireland for more than 10 years, and who asked not to be named, said he feels like he is “in a prison”.
“I got all the papers and submitted them to the minister in 2016. I have been waiting since then and have gotten no news,” he said.
“The last time I received a reply about my application was a few months ago but there was no particular answer to say when I could get citizenship. I got an email saying they received my email but that’s it.”
Foreign nationals are formally given citizenship at ceremonies attended by the justice minister but two ceremonies planned for September and December were cancelled following July’s ruling.
“It’s like I’m in a prison and I cannot go anywhere. My parents are in Sudan and they are getting old. My dad doesn’t understand why I don’t want to see him. We used to be so close and every time he talks to me it makes me cry because I can’t go and visit him until I have Irish citizenship.”
While it has been three years since he first submitted his application, and having been told all of the required documentation was received, he now fears it could be several years before he formally becomes an Irish citizen and can leave and return to Ireland as he pleases.
Fiona Finn, CEO of NASC, which advocates for migrant and refugee rights, said the Department’s guideline wait time of six months to process applications was not a reality for many.
“It’s a frustrating experience for applicants who don’t know where their application is in the queue and don’t have a time frame for how long it will take for their application to be dealt with. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been our experience that applications are dealt with within a six month period.
“The decision in the Jones case caused a great deal of worry for thousands of migrants. We welcomed the minister’s commitment to legislating in the aftermath of the decision, but we have been disappointed that no guidance has been given to people who are considering applying,” Finn said.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he was working on new legislation proposals to address the High Court’s ruling.
Another applicant from Serbia, who has also been living here for more than a decade, and who asked not to be named, said an immigration officer advised her she could be waiting two years before she is granted citizenship.
“I have asked for three years about applying for citizenship but was told not to do so – even though I qualified for it in 2015,” she said.
“I officially did it this year through a solicitor, who wrote a cover letter and went through my immigration papers. She sent it all in mid-June, with a record of residency which is part of the citizenship form. I’ve been here for 11 years.
“I got an acceptance letter in August, which very vaguely said ‘we will stay in touch, we will communicate with you’ and that was the last time I heard from them.
“My immigration officer mentioned to me that there will be a huge backlog and you might be waiting until next year, or maybe two years, for my citizenship ceremony.”
TheJournal.ie contacted the Department and asked if there would be further delays to the application process in light of July’s ruling.
A spokesperson said: “The outcome of the [court] appeal will have a bearing on whether or not legislation is required. Should it be necessary, the minister intends to introduce a bill in the Oireachtas as soon as possible this term.
“The Department is doing everything possible to put a solution in place on an urgent basis. At the end of July, the minister obtained Cabinet approval for a proposed bill to address the matter and intensive work is taking place in the Department.”
The spokesperson also said the Department was awaiting the outcome of the court appeal before scheduling any ceremonies.
“As soon as the legal issues are resolved, the Department will make all necessary arrangements for the next Citizenship Ceremony. Invitations will issue four weeks in advance of the ceremony to ensure everyone has adequate notice.
“The advice to those who are planning to apply for citizenship is to continue to collect all of the necessary proofs that support their application and to submit a comprehensive application form. Once a solution is in place, if any additional information is required, applicants will be contacted as part of the processing of their application.”
Published: 13 October 2019