Thursday, 29 May 2014
I welcome the Minister to the House to deal with this matter. I wish to raise the issuing of visas to persons who wish to enter the country and in particular, the issuing of three-month visas. The specific case I raise concerns a married couple who are both registrars in hospitals in Cork. They have senior positions as registrars and are crucial to the provision of health care services in the hospitals in which they work. As the Minister is aware, the HSE is finding it extremely difficult to recruit staff at the moment, with over 250 consultant posts vacant as well as a large number of NCHD posts vacant. Many of those posts are being filled by agency doctors. These doctors are not agency doctors and are committed to this country, having lived here for a considerable period of time. They are providing a very valuable service to the health care sector. They have two young children and the woman wants her father to be able to come to Ireland to stay with the family and give them support but all he can get is a three-month visa. He received a letter recently from the embassy in New Delhi declining his application for a visa.
The family would have no difficulty if a six-month visa was issued - that is manageable. However, in the context of travelling from India to Ireland, a three-month visa is not cost-effective. It is not that the couple want him to come here to provide child care - they already have an au pair doing that. They just want extra support for the family unit but the system as it currently exists is not accommodating them. I ask that the system be reviewed. At a time when we cannot get medical practitioners to come here to work, we should not be putting obstacles in peoples' way which will discourage them from staying here and prevent them from getting family support when they need it. In this case, the children are both under five. The woman wants her father to be allowed to stay for a decent period of time and I ask that the matter be examined.
I speak on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and thank the Senator for raising this issue. As the Senator will be aware, the Minister's predecessor published a detailed policy document on the matter of family reunification as it applies to non-EEA nationals at the end of last year. The document set out the various factors that arise in considering applications to come to Ireland from people whose families are already resident here, either as Irish nationals or lawfully present non-EEA nationals. The document emphasised the importance of striking a balance between the interests of the applicant family on the one hand and public policy on the other. Economic considerations are a key element of this and will inform immigration policy generally and also individual decisions made in respect of specific cases. This sort of consideration is common to all jurisdictions.
There are essentially two categories of family-related immigration. One is where the person wishes to come to Ireland and live with a family member. The other relates to visitors who wish to spend some time here with family and then return home. The policy document sets out in detail the conditions applicable to residence applications from family members, including dealing with the level of income the sponsor must have to support family. In effect, a green card holder or a full time non-locum hospital doctor can be joined immediately by his or her spouse or partner and children. There are more restrictive conditions applicable to cases where the residence application is in respect of elderly dependent relatives, in particular parents. The onus must be on the family to show that there is no viable alternative to the parents coming to Ireland to live. In reality, such alternatives are very often available, for example, where the parent has the financial resources to meet their needs and is physically capable of independent living; where other family members are in the country and capable of providing support or where home care can be funded by the Irish resident through remittances.
Visitors are limited to 90-days stay in Ireland. If they wish to stay longer than this and are permitted to do so they are required to register with the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB. This becomes a form of temporary residence. This scenario may arise in family cases where a parent wishes to spend a number of months here, following the birth of a grandchild, for example. It is also recognised that family members embarking on a long journey may not be able to do so very often and may wish to spend an extended period in Ireland.
The policy document indicated that consideration will be given to establishing a form of immigration status that would make it easier for visitors to obtain an extension of their stay - for example to 180 days - without conferring either residency rights or any expectation thereof. The status would be that of extended visitor and the holder would have no entitlements to State services, irrespective of the duration of the stay. While the policy document indicated that legislative change might be required to cater for this form of status and that work still needs to be done in this regard, there is scope within the current system for allowing stays of more than 90 days but with a requirement to register with the GNIB.
If the Senator has a case in mind - and his contribution indicates that he does - it would be advisable for the person seeking to come to Ireland on an extended but finite visit to indicate this clearly when applying for a visa and also to communicate this at the point of entry to the immigration officer on duty. A key factor in any decision is that the visa or immigration officer is satisfied that the applicant will return home at the end of the period indicated. In that respect, the authorities also have to be satisfied that the person will not be a burden on the State in terms of health, welfare or both.
I am informed that the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service is happy to discuss specific cases with the Senator and to advise him as to the available options. Where cases have special humanitarian aspects, these will always be considered in an appropriate manner and in that respect the Senator is invited to make such details known to the Immigration Service so that matters may be advanced.
I thank Senator Burke for raising this issue.
I thank the Minister for his very comprehensive reply. As I said earlier, this person is not looking for residency status and has no intention of staying here long term. His grandchildren are in their early years and need his support. The possibility of extending the visa beyond 90 days has not been suggested to the family. In fact, the application for a visa of any description was turned down. I am bewildered as to why we are not accommodating two people who are making a major contribution to the health service here. I intend to take the case up directly with the Department. I thank the Minister for the very comprehensive reply. I believe we must consider this issue carefully. A three-month visa for someone travelling from a country as far away as India is not adequate, especially in the context of our current difficulties with recruiting doctors. These two doctors have suggested to me that they are considering moving to the United Kingdom, which will result in another two vacancies in our health service. Government Departments need to co-operate in matters such as this rather than applying black-and-white rules. This issue must be examined further. I thank the Minister once again for his response.
I am sure Senator Burke was not expecting that I would have the details of the case to which he referred but I thank him for raising the matter. As I stated earlier, anybody wishing to stay in this jurisdiction for a period longer than the standard 90-day period can make such an application which requires registration with the GNIB. This, in effect, is a temporary form of residence. The specific case adverted to by the Senator mentions grandchildren. I would assume on the basis of the reply before me that the case mentioned by Senator Burke would receive consideration under the new application regulations.
I thank the Senator for raising the issue. I advise him to make direct contact with the appropriate authorities in the hope that matters may be advanced. If he has further difficulty in that regard I trust he may make direct contact with the Minister for Justice and Equality.