ANNOUNCEMENT OF NEW PROCEDURES FOR CITIZENSHIP APPLICATIONS
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, T.D., recently issued a statement setting out details of new changes to be introduced to the citizenship application procedure.
The most significant change for applicants is bound to be the reduction in the application processing time. According to the Minister there will be a “six month turnaround time” on applications for Naturalisation. The current minimum processing time is about two years. There is currently a backlog of 14,000 applications and it is hoped that it will be cleared over the coming months. This change, if it proceeds, is to be welcomed.
While reviewing the application process the Minister found that many applications forms (Form 8) were being returned to applicants for being incorrectly completed. In order to counteract this the Minister has introduced new application forms to be used for any application for Naturalisation made after the 24th June. Any applications on the old forms after that date will be returned in their entirety.
These new forms have some small but notable changes:
All applicants are now required to put in details of their residence stamps in order to calculate their reckonable residency. There is a problem here for people with refugee status that we are currently trying to clarify with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration service. There is no reference to the existing requirement of only three years reckonable residency for people with refugee status. It may simply be the case that this was left out of the new draft form. When we get more information about this we will post it here and on our website. In the meantime people with refugee status should enclose their letter confirming their acceptance of refugee status with their application. It remains our understanding that time spent as an asylum seeker does not count towards reckonable residency.
The other changes to the form and application are that you now have to give details of your employment for the last five years and details of any social welfare payments received within the last three years. We have noted that there has been an unofficial policy in the Department of Justice to refuse applicants Naturalisation for being in receipt of Social Welfare. This was also highlighted in the recent report of the Immigrant Council of Ireland. It would now appear that this policy has been formally adopted. Such a policy clearly discriminates against those who are on Social Welfare through no fault of their own i.e. disability and sickness. We are also concerned that such a general policy discriminates against applicants who satisfy the statutory criteria and have an excellent work history but have had to rely on job seekers allowance for a period. For applicants who are in receipt of unemployment assistance it is essential that you provide evidence of your attempts to obtain work and your registration with FAS.
It is hoped that the changes to the forms and the updated list of required documentation will decrease the amount of incorrect applications being returned to applicants thereby reducing the turnaround time on applications.
Further changes to the process include the introduction of a new Citizenship ceremony to add a “sense of occasion” rather than simply receiving the Certificate of Naturalisation by post. This addresses concerns of new citizens noted in the report of the Immigrant Council of Ireland and should be welcomed. Also the Minister hopes to employ a number of interns under the Governments Jobs Imitative to assist with the applications and we hope that this will ensure that the proposed new turnaround time is met.
We will keep you updated with any further changes or developments in coming weeks and months. As always, we welcome your comments or queries.