Tuesday, 5 July 2022
Department of Justice and Equality
497. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the current timeline in relation to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service for the processing of applications in respect of minors; and the number of minor applications that are pending at this time. [35279/22]
498. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the action, if any, that has been taken by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service to improve the application process; and if any action has been taken in recent months to address the delays in processing as a result of Covid-19. [35280/22]
516. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the current number of citizenship applications being processed for minors broken down by the length of processing time for the following bands, those aged up to one year, between one and two years, between two and three years and those aged three years or more in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35699/22]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 497, 498 and 516 together.
I am deeply conscious of how important the granting of naturalisation is to those who apply for it and my Department continued to accept and process citizenship applications throughout the pandemic and during all levels of public health restrictions.
There are currently 3,526 applications in the system in respect of a minor who is the child of a naturalised Irish citizen. The balance of minor applications in the system are made up of applications based on Irish Association (226), applications in respect of minors born in the State but not entitled to citizenship at the time of their birth (827) and applications for Declarations under Section 28 and 28A of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act (71). Almost half of these applications have been in the system 12 months or fewer.
For a broad range of reasons, some cases will take longer than others to process. In some instances, completing the necessary checks can take a considerable period of time.
In addition, the combined impact of the 2019 High Court judgment in the Jones case and the necessary health restrictions arising from the pandemic, has unfortunately resulted in the processing time for standard applications increasing.
Regrettably, the current average processing time for naturalisation applications for minors is approximately 26 months. This average processing time is based on the time from receipt of an application to the date of issuing a decision and reflects the efforts made to clear the oldest applications on hand. As the oldest applications are cleared this average will decrease.
In the first six months of this year, 1,005 minor applications have been issued with a decision on their application. Over the last two months, the Citizenship Division of my Department has been specifically focusing on the processing of naturalisation applications for minors, which has resulted in over 1,100 applicants having been contacted directly regarding the further processing of their applications.
The citizenship application process is reviewed on an ongoing basis to continually improve customer service quality. Feedback from applicants is taken on board and, as a result, a much more simplified, customer-focused and streamlined mechanism for applicants to provide their proofs of residence has recently been introduced.
To further speed up the processing of applications, a number of digitisation measures have also been introduced to increase efficiency in the process, including eTax clearance, eVetting and online payments. The end result of the digitisation process will be to free up more staff to focus on processing applications in a timely and efficient manner, to improve service to our customers and reduce waiting times. Additional staff have also been assigned to the citizenship team.
Since the beginning of this year, new applicants no longer have to submit their original passport with their application. Instead, they can provide a full colour copy of their entire passport, including the front and back covers. This change in practice is welcomed by our customers and is also freeing up valuable staff time that up to now has been engaged in returning passports to applicants.
The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended, provides that an application may be submitted for a minor if the minor's parents have already been naturalised or if the minor is of Irish descent or has Irish associations or, at the time of their birth, was not entitled to Irish citizenship but has since accumulated five years reckonable residency in the State.
It is my intention that the forthcoming Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will reduce the residency requirements for naturalisation for children born in the State from five years to three years and will also set out clear procedures that will apply to citizenship applications relating to children.
Detailed information on Irish citizenship and the naturalisation process, along with the relevant application forms and guidance notes, is available on my Department's immigration website at: irishimmigration.ie/how-to-become-a-citizen/.
My Department successfully hosted the first in-person citizenship ceremony since the pandemic on 20 June 2022, with further ceremonies now planned for December 2022, in Killarney.
The number of minor applications pending is set out in the below table:
|Time since application received||Number of applications|
|Under 12 months||2,164|
|1 - 2 years||1,246|
|2 – 3 years||776|
|Over 3 years||464|