Addressing the need for more comprehensive and transparent guidelines to assist both applicants and decision makers in the area of family reunification, the Policy Document on Non-EEA Family Reunification, released by the Department of Justice in December of 2013, aims to make clear how the State intends to deal with family reunification cases. The document does not create or acknowledge any new rights of family reunification, however it does present a series of proposals aimed at improving the family reunification process. Here we have summarized some of the more significant proposals as well as the current policies outlined in the document with respect to application processing, the qualifications of a sponsor, dependency requirements, eligibility requirements for spouse, civil partner or de facto partner, elderly dependent parents, and applications for parental migration on the basis of Irish citizen children.
Proposed Changes to Family Reunification Application Processing
The document proposes administrative changes in consolidating the processing of family reunification applications and appeals within the INIS.
The document proposes the establishment of a preclearance facility for family reunification applications, requiring all applications to be submitted to the facility from overseas rather than upon arrival in Ireland. This would involve a standard application form and fee and the establishment of a central specialist family settlement unit where all applications would be referred. This standardized system would place visa required and non-visa required applicants on a level playing field and work to ensure transparent and consistent information gathering for both officials and applicants. It would also aim to address issues arising from the lack of certainty for applicants applying from within the country who only have ninety days to complete the process. Further, the document states the intention to discuss the addition of language and cultural knowledge requirements for applicants at all levels of immigration.
Second, the document proposes the establishment of a statutory appeals system through provisions in the Immigration Residence and Protection Bill. Once in place, applications for family reunification will be incorporated.
Lastly, the document proposes to provide specific immigration permission for children under the age of 16 to be registered on an administrative basis (not currently allowable under the 2004 Immigration Act) which will allow them to establish personal resident history at an earlier date.
Qualifications of a Sponsor
Currently, those eligible to be sponsors in the family reunification process include a:
- An Irish citizen residing or intending to reside in Ireland
- Lawfully resident foreign national as an Employment Permit Holder
- Lawfully resident foreign national with an immigration Stamp 4 , including Long Term residents
- If Stamp 4 holder is a refugee or a person granted subsidiary protection, this also applies
- Lawfully resident foreign national with an immigration Stamp 5
- Researcher under a hosting agreement
- PhD student studying for a doctorate accredited in Ireland
- Minister of Religion with an immigration Stamp 3
With respect to these qualifications, it is proposed that sponsors will additionally have to achieve minimum levels of earnings prior to being eligible to sponsor a family member. These will be set at a cumulative gross figure of €40,000 over three years where the sponsor is an Irish citizen and a higher level where the sponsor is a non-EEA national. Social welfare payments will not be reckonable as earnings for this purpose. This requirement would also increase where an application is made for a dependent elderly parent.
Further, the document proposes to adopt a streamlined approach to residency requirements for non-EEA sponsors, with highly skilled workers, entrepreneurs, researchers and others able to apply immediately for family reunification. A 2 year waiting time is applied in cases of certain other categories.
As defined and further clarified by this policy document, “dependency” means that the family member is (i) supported financially by the sponsor on a continuous basis and (ii) that there is evidence of social dependency between the two parties. The degree of dependency, both financial and otherwise, must render independent living at a subsistence level by the family member in their country impossible if that financial and social support is not maintained. This relationship must also be proven to be pre-existing and sustained prior to creating and submitting an application for family reunification.
Eligibility Requirements for Spouse, Civil Partner or De Facto Partner
Any eligible spouse, civil partner, or de facto partner must be at least 18 years of age. The relationship must be monogamous, freely entered into by both parties, and lawfully conducted and recognized under Irish law. The couple must also demonstrate a clear commitment that they will live together following the outcome of the application as circumstances permit.
For marriages and civil partnerships there is no minimum duration requirement. De facto partnerships are required to prove the existence of a relationship akin to marriage, including cohabitation two years prior to submission of the application.
Entry for the purposes of marriage or civil partnership may also be permitted given a 6 month provision, so long as it can be proven that the union is not for convenience. Similarly, proxy marriages may also be recognized under the same policy if it is demonstrated that the marriage is genuine and freely entered into by both parties and the couple can show that they have met each other in person.
Elderly Dependent Parents
Because the potential financial liability for the State of providing medical treatment to accepted elderly dependent relatives is considerable, the document states “emigration, including that by Irish people, is undertaken with no legitimate expectation of ever being joined by parents” and as such, all cases are approached highly restrictively.
To address this concern, the document proposes that the sponsor of an elderly dependent relative be required to have earned in Ireland each of the three years preceding the application an income after tax and deductions of no less than €60,000 in the case of one parent, and € 75,000 in the case of two parents. The requirements for dependency outlined previously must also be met in all cases involving elderly dependent relatives. As such, the sponsor must also prove that there is absolutely no viable alternative including the availability of other family members, financial resources, and the movement of the sponsor from Ireland to care for the applicant.
If the application is approved, the document further proposes that the applicant be covered by private medical insurance at above the level of VH plan D or equivalent. The sponsor must also sign a legal undertaking to bear personal and complete financial responsibility for the elderly dependent relative and make detailed provision for their accommodation. Permission of this kind would be regarded as temporary and renewable on an annual basis providing all conditions are met and the accepted applicant will be given Stamp 0 (not reckonable for Long Term residence or Naturalisation).
Irish Citizen Children-Applications for Parental Migration
In cases where parents seek residence in Ireland on the basis of their citizen (minor) child, applications are considered with respect to the contribution the parent’s presence would contribute to the child’s enjoyment of its rights as a citizen and parents cannot claim personal rights of residence merely by their parentage of a minor Irish citizen child. This addressed, the document states that each application is viewed individually, taking into account each family’s specific situation. However, it also states that a series of linked applications, seeking to bring to Ireland both parents and all siblings on the basis of a single minor citizen child would seem to go beyond what is reasonable. This is seen as particularly relevant if the State would be required to provide for the family financially.