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Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland
citizenship by descent

New team established to process major increase in citizenship requests from foreign-born citizens

The number of foreign-born citizens seeking an Irish citizenship has more than trebled in three years.

THE DEPARTMENT OF Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has established a new team to handle the growing number of people seeking Irish citizenship through the foreign births registration process. 

The process, also known as citizenship by descent, is run through the Passport Service and is available to anyone who has an Irish parent born on the island of Ireland.

The number of applications from foreign-born individuals seeking citizenship has more than trebled since 2016, the same year the Brexit referendum took place.

Documents released to under Freedom of Information show the number of foreign-born individuals applying for citizenship before 2016 was around 6,000 per year. 

Since 2016, and following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union in March that year, the number of applications rocketed to more than 24,000 and has continued to grow, putting pressure on existing resources. 

In 2018, the number of applications of this kind reached more than 25,000. Some 14,000 of these came from Britain, with the rest coming from other countries like the US, Canada, South Africa and the rest of the world. 

So far in 2019 there have been 23,000 new applications submitted from people born abroad – some 11,000 of those have come from applicants in Britain.

Processing time

Applications of this nature usually take around six months, according to documents seen by, but a spokesperson for the Department confirmed that these applications are now taking up to 12 months to process from the date “all of the required documentation has been submitted”.

“The DFAT processes applications under the foreign births registration otherwise known as Citizenship by Descent. This can be a complex process that may require an applicant to submit official documentation relating to three generations. 

“The Department has responded to increased demand by creating a new, dedicated foreign birth registration team by reviewing and streamlining our processes, and introducing improvements for efficiency and security, particularly with regard to identity.”

The North

Applications for Irish passports have also rocketed in recent years, with a large proportion of these coming from citizens in the North. 

In 2018, the passport office issued 860,000 passports, the highest number ever issued in a single year, and an increase of 10% on the previous year. 

The same year, some 84,855 applications were received from citizens in Northern Ireland with a further 98,544 applications received from Britain. 

At 31 July this year, the passport service received over 486,000 applications, with around 80,000 of those coming from Northern Ireland, and a further 72,000 from Great Britain. 

Following questions to the Department from the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence in March, the Department said it did not foresee a need to establish a passport office in Northern Ireland. 

“There is no justification on a value for money or operational basis to open additional passport offices. The Passport Service will continue to keep service levels under careful review and adjustments will be made to the deployment of resources as needed,” it said. 

In April, the DFAT announced it was putting a €13 million contract out to tender to develop a new ICT system and employ more staff. 

At the time, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he was confident additional funding and staffing of the Passport Service would allow for the increase in demand for applications this year. 

With reporting from Ken Foxe. 

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