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France has given citizenship to 12,000 frontline workers – can Ireland do the same?

The citizenship application process usually takes around two years in France.

OUR FRENCH NEIGHBOURS fast-tracked the citizenship applications of 12,000 frontline workers due to their work throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The citizenship application process usually takes around two years in France. The fast-track system also reduced the residency requirement from five years to two. 

The French government announced in September 2020 that non-French citizens who had “actively contributed” to supporting the country through the pandemic would be eligible to apply for fast-track citizenship. French Minister Marlène Schiappa announced this week that there had been 16,381 applications and 12,012 of those had been approved.

This raises the question – can Ireland do the same?

Fine Gael’s Neale Richmond certainly thinks so. He told The Journal: “My very blunt reply is: if the French can do it, why can’t we?”

As of June this year, there were just under 25,000 naturalisation applications. The lengthy backlog is now beginning to shift through the processing of applications and online citizenship ceremonies are underway.

The extensive backlog has meant longer wait times for applicants to hear back about their citizenship status. Richmond stated that “much credit should go to the officials who have provided extra resources to get through the applications”.

Many countries across the world are having conversations about how to show their appreciation to frontline workers who have sacrificed enormous amounts in order to support their countries response to the pandemic.

In July, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil the government is “actively” considering a bonus for healthcare workers to recognise their efforts throughout the pandemic. Yet the question of granting citizenship to non-Irish frontline workers remains.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality James Browne told the Dáil in early June that the naturalisation application process has “no provisions to apply different criteria depending on the category of employment of the applicant.”

In response to Minister Browne, Richmond noted his disappointment regarding the inability to fast-track the applications of frontline workers. 

A spokesperson from the Department of Justice stated: “All applications for a certificate of naturalisation are processed and assessed individually in accordance with the relevant legislative provisions.”

There is no provision under the legislation to differentiate between cohorts of applicants, for instance on the basis of nationality, ethnic origin or occupation. Details about an applicant’s category of employment and other relevant data or identifiers are not maintained by the Department’s Immigration Service.

Richmond highlighted the case of a member of his constituency, who has been resident in Ireland for over ten years. The man has been working in a care home throughout the course of the pandemic. At one stage the nursing home was at the centre of a Covid-19 breakout in which several residents lost their lives.

He described the constituent’s work as “the epitome of bravery” before adding “I think he has earned the respect of the nation to be put to the top of the queue”.

The issue of fast-tracking citizenship applications of frontline workers will be raised in the Dáil by Richmond in the coming weeks. As more and more countries show their gratitude to frontline workers for helping them through the pandemic, questions remain surrounding what support Ireland will implement.

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