File image of signage at the front of the Department of Justice. Alamy Stock Photo

Government extends suspension of visa-free travel for people with refugee status

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said the decision was ‘carefully considered’ and is ‘necessary to protect the integrity of Ireland’s immigration system’.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS extended the suspension of visa-free travel for people with refugee status.

Last July, the government suspended the Council of Europe (COE) Agreement on the Abolition of Visas for Refugees for a 12-month period.

The government said this decision was taken “in light of evidence of people applying for asylum in Ireland who had already received refugee status in another European country”.

Last year’s suspension followed proposals by the Justice Minister Helen McEntee and then-Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney due to concerns over abuse of the system.

“Where there is evidence that there may be abuse of such systems, the Government must act swiftly to mitigate the risks to maintain the integrity of our immigration and international protection systems and uphold public confidence in those systems,” said Minister McEntee in a statement announcing the suspension last year.

COE Agreement

The COE Agreement was signed and entered into force by Ireland in 1969.

Under that agreement, refugees who have been granted international protection in a signatory country can travel to another signatory country – so-called ‘safe’ countries – for a period of up to three months without a visa.

Signatories of the agreement issue what’s known as a Convention Travel Document to refugees and this facilitates the visa-free travel.

The countries that have ratified and brought the agreement into force are: Belgium; Czechia; Denmark; Finland; Germany; Hungary; Iceland; Italy; Liechtenstein; Luxembourg; Malta; Netherlands; Norway; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Slovak Republic; Spain; Sweden; and Switzerland.

The Department of Justice today announced the extension of the suspension of this agreement and added that the decision will be reviewed in 12 months.

The suspension means people with refugee status now require a visa to travel to Ireland rather than travelling visa-free with their Convention Travel Document.

The visa-waiver arrangements for people fleeing the war in Ukraine remains unaffected.

‘Carefully considered’

Speaking today, Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin said the decision has been taken “in the context of unprecedented pressures on our international protection system”.

He added: “It is not a decision taken lightly but it is the right one for Ireland at this time to ensure the integrity of our immigration system, to avoid any undue pressure on systems that are already under strain and to make sure that those who need protection in Ireland can get it and get it quickly.”

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said today’s decision was “carefully considered” and that it is “necessary to protect the integrity of Ireland’s immigration system”.

She added that “Ireland’s commitment to protecting and assisting those in need remains steadfast”.

In a statement today, the Department of Justice said “Ireland continues to see high levels of applications for international protection when compared to pre-pandemic levels”.

“Before the suspension of visa free travel arrangements was introduced in July 2022, there was a 191% increase in applications by the end of June 2022 compared to the same period in 2019,” said a Department spokesperson.