The Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, recently published the annual review of Ireland’s immigration related activity for the year 2015In the report, the minister included immigration statistics as well as achievements in the area of immigration form the previous year and the Department’s priorities for 2016.
In the report 2015 is described as “a positive, highly active year against a challenging backdrop”. The increase of residence, visa and citizenship applications was attributed to Ireland’s growing economy and our positive international population. There were approximately 114,000 non-EEA people resident in Ireland. That is an increase from 105,000 in 2014. Furthermore, there was a 14% increase in the number of short and long stay visa applications from 2015 with the approval rate remaining at 91%. In 2015 there were vast improvements made to customer service at INIS with the introduction of an online booking system for re-entry visa applications. Thus, applicants will no longer need to queue in person to make these applications. Early in 2015 the one hundredth citizenship ceremony took place with over 13,500 people becoming Irish citizens in 2015 alone.
2015 will be remembered for the endemic migration crisis facing the European Union. In response to this, and after many meetings with Ministers across Europe, the Irish Government agreed to accept 4,000 people under the Relocation and Resettlement Programmes. The Government established the Irish Refugee Protection Programme in September 2015 to oversee this undertaking. A cross-departmental taskforce was also established to handle the logistical and operational aspects of receiving the 4,000 refugees. They have had their first meeting and will work in conjunction with a number of Non-Governmental-Organisations, religious bodies and local authorities to establish a network of emergency reception centres around the country.
Minister Fitzgerald stated that civilianisation of border control at Dublin Airport was a priority for 2015. This has, to a large extent been followed through on. On 22nd June 2015, Immigration Officers from INIS took over complete responsibility for passport checks at Terminal one. This is to be extended to Terminal two as a priority in 2016. Civilianisation of border control in the Airport will result in the release of approximately 75 members of An Garda Síochána to be redeployed to other duties. However, the Garda National Immigration Bureau will continue to perform investigative and detention functions in the Airport.
The student immigration system was also substantially reformed in 2015. These changes were announced by the then Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan and Minister Frances Fitzgerald. These reforms were introduced to tackle abuse of the system and to improve the quality of the system. The changes include a more restrictive list of programmes and institutions that are eligible for immigration purposes. The institutions will now have to be accredited by Irish Awarding bodies and will have to reach a certain standard. The immigration permission for those attending a 25 week English language programme will also be reduced from 12 months to 8 months. These changes will render student visa applications more difficult. However students will be protected in that the Institutions they are attending must be of a certain quality.
Minister Fitzgerald, when introducing the report, noted the record-breaking number of new visa, residence and citizenship applications received by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service during 2014. Approximately 172,000 new applications were received by the INIS during 2014 while a total of 179,000 were processed. The Minister also alluded to “further ambitious reforms” to the immigration system, which will be a priority for this year. Some of the reforms mentioned include the introduction of a single procedure for the asylum system and the completion of the civilianisation of border control at Dublin Airport. The British Irish Visa Scheme was also referred to in the report. Minister Fitzgerald announced that the target for 2015 is to complete the worldwide rollout of countries which may benefit from this initiative; India will be the next country in which the scheme will be commenced.
As Minister Fitzgerald stated in the report; the civilianisation of border control at Dublin Airport is a key priority for the year 2015.
The report had also shown an increase in the number of students given permission to study within the State. Compared to statistics from 2013, there was an increase of 3,700 students being granted permission to study in the State in 2014. In her report, Minister Fitzgerald introduced a new, government approved, package of reforms for international education and for the student immigration system. The purpose of these reforms is to “provide certainty and clarity”, to “prioritise education over work” and to further align the student migration system with the strategic objective. The reforms include important amendments to the current student work concession.
The report also addresses the reduction of processing times for various applications. Since the introduction of reforms to the citizenship process, announced in 2011, over 90,000 applications have been decided on and the processing times for standard applications has been reduced from 31 months to less than 6 months.
According to the report, there are approximately 95,000 non-EEA nationals with permission to remain in the State; as compared to the estimated figure of 107,000 at the end of 2013. The majority of these are here for work or study. The top 6 nationalities that are registered are; Brazil (12%), India (11%), China (9%), USA (7%), Nigeria (6%) and Philippines (5%). The report also notes that the approval percentage for entry visas in 2014 was 91%.
In the report, the Minister also confirmed that there will be legislative reform to the asylum system with the aim of reducing structural delays and reducing time spent by applicants in direct provision. This will be another key priority of the government for the year and the Minister expects to receive approval to publish the Protection Bill in the near future. These reforms are extremely long overdue.
Other topics have been analysed in this report, such as the taking of biometrics and the use of e-gates at Dublin Airport. The report can be found on the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service website.
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