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Non-EU doctors call for all frontline workers' citizenship applications to be fasttracked

Doctors have written to all TDs and senators asking for their citizenship to be fasttracked as a gesture for their work during the pandemic.

Image: Shutterstock/Alexandros Michailidis

NON-EU DOCTORS ARE asking that all frontline workers’ citizenship applications to be prioritised as a gesture for their work during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A group called Train Us for Ireland – representing non-EU doctors who are calling for greater access to Irish courses to allow them to up-skill - has written to each TD and Senator to ask them to bring a bill to the Dáil that would allow frontline workers’ citizenship applications to be fasttracked.

“Our general proposal to fasttrack citizenship for all frontline workers will need something extraordinary. Our frontline workers strongly recommend to bring legislation forward on this matter as an appreciation of their heroic sacrifices in this pandemic,” the letter reads.

The Department of Justice is currently in the process of fast-tracking the applications of thousands of people who have been waiting for over 30 months for a verdict on their citizenship application.

There have been delays to the citizenship application process due to a High Court ruling which was successfully appealed at the Court of Appeal, and a pause to in-person citizenship ceremonies which represents the final step in the application process.

The Department has deployed a temporary system since January to clear the backlog.

It also said that it isn’t possible to prioritise workers by profession, as it doesn’t collate the professions of citizenship applicants in a way that could help prioritise applications.

Hospital doctor Mohsin Kamal, who has previously called for healthcare workers to be fasttracked for citizenship, told The Journal that as part of the application process, applicants have to submit a letter from their employer, and healthcare workers have to submit a hospital letter. 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly had been in touch with Justice Minister Helen McEntee previously about fast-tracking citizenship applications of non-EEA healthcare workers.

A hospital doctor told The Journal that he first submitted his citizenship application in 2016, which was rejected two years later due to an error on his part.

His wife applied a year after he submitted his application, and received a reply that her application was successful after a year of waiting. 

When applications are sent, it should be accepted or rejected within 6-12 months.

The doctor re-applied, and has now been waiting to hear a response to his application for over two years, despite being told that his wife’s citizenship application was dependent on the success of his. 

Although he was told previously that his application was at an advanced stage, months later officials now can’t confirm at what stage his application is at.

“We are first at the door to face Covid,” he tells The Journal.

“We are not getting naturalisations after 9-10 years of working without a break, and lawfully living here. Why should we wait this long? Why can’t we see our applications fasttracked? I think they should be.”

“I know an anesthesiologist who has been waiting 10 years for a response to her application. Another woman I know, a hospital doctor, had to leave the country because she couldn’t get her husband here on a visitor’s visa. They were newly married, she had applied last July, but couldn’t get anywhere.”

How the Dept of Justice is clearing the citizenship backlog

In a statement to The Journal following the hashtag ‘FasttrackCitizenship’ trending on Twitter, the Department of Justice said that a temporary system in place since 18 January will help to speed up the applications being processed.

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It’s hoped that it will do this by allowing applicants to sign a statutory declaration of loyalty instead of attending a citizenship ceremony, and by fast-tracking applications which have been submitted over two years ago.

The Department previously said that by the end of March, it will have communicated with 4,000 applicants, most of whom will have been in the system for over 30 months.

The Department expects to continue the current statutory declaration process beyond March and is aiming to have communicated with “an additional 2,500 applicants in the system by the end of June”.

By June, all applicants that were recorded as having been in the system for 24 months, as of 30 December 2020, will have been contacted by the Department.

Dr Liqa ur Rehman, co founder of the Train Us for Ireland group, said the group is liaising with the Department for further feedback on the processing times.

He said that the community he represents – which includes the Association of Pakistani Physicians and Surgeons; the Egyptian Doctors Association of Ireland; and the Sudanese Doctors in Ireland – is “happy” with the Department’s plan to clear the backlog.

To date, 1,605 declarations had been returned by the end of last week. A further 500 will issue by the end of this month. A total of 887 certificates of naturalisation have already been issued.

Approximately 24,000 citizenship applications are currently being processed.

The Department said that the current target is that it should take around 12 months for a standard application for a certificate of naturalisation to be processed from the date it is received to the date a decision is made. However, for a broad range of reasons, some cases will take longer than others to process, it said.

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