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Justice Department says it can't fast-track healthcare workers' citizenship applications

The Department said it can’t fast-track the healthcare workers’ applications specifically, as it doesn’t segregate applicants by their work.

Image: Shutterstock/Haris Mm

THE DEPARTMENT OF Justice is temporarily fast-tracking citizenship applications of people who have been waiting over two years for a response – but says it cannot process healthcare workers’ applications as a priority, as it doesn’t have the system to do so.

There are around 24,000 citizenship applications in the system, including a backlog of 4,000 applications that are in the final processing stages. 

The Department has said that by the end of this month, the Department will have been in touch with these 4,000 applicants, most of whom will have been in the system for over 30 months.

A further 2,500 applicants will be contacted by the end of June. By then, the Department will have contacted all of those who were in the system for two years as of 30 December.

The Department said that it cannot prioritise the citizenship applications from healthcare workers, as the system doesn’t categorise applicants in this way, but it added that  many healthcare workers would be in the group of applicants waiting for over 2 years.

Groups representing immigrant healthcare workers have welcomed the Department’s pledge to prioritise processing citizenship applicants in this way.

Dr Liqa ur Rehman, IMO member and co-founder of the Train Us For Ireland group – representing non-EU doctors who are calling for greater access to Irish courses to allow them to up-skill – said that those who have been waiting for over two years are now “receiving positive responses”.

Dr Liqa said that they had been told once the backlog is cleared, within 6 months, the Department has said that efforts will be made to improve the system.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has also heard concerns from this group recently, and has been in touch with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee about the issue.

France and Canada are among the countries that have offered a fast-tracked or streamlined process to residency for doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers.

How the process works during the pandemic

At the moment, applications for Irish citizenship can be sent after five years of being resident in Ireland. When an application is sent, it should be processed within 6-12 months but often takes longer – with some healthcare workers’ applications still being reviewed four years after first applying.

The Department of Justice announced a system on 18 January that would allow new citizens to complete their application by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. 

This was an attempt to clear the backlog of applications while citizenship ceremonies are on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This system will be in place on a phased basis until citizenship ceremonies can resume, the Department said.

Groups representing immigrant healthcare workers had called on the government to process the applications of healthcare workers as a priority given their essential work during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Department of Justice said that it was “prioritising applicants who have been in the system for some time and, while this measure is not exclusively aimed at non-EEA doctors, this cohort does includes many non-EEA doctors.”

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The Department acknowledged the “crucial role of all healthcare workers”, and said that it had met with the Train Us For Ireland group recently.

“The processing times for citizenship applications was among the topics discussed and officials from the Department’s Immigration Service will continue to liaise with Train Us For Ireland in relation to this issue.

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.”

The Department said that Irish citizenship “is a privilege and an honour” that requires the appropriate procedures “to preserve the integrity of the process”.

Dr Liqa said that groups representing doctors waiting to hear back about their citizenship applications are satisfied with the Department’s actions.

These include the Association of Pakistani Physicians and Surgeons EU – Ireland (APPS EU- Ireland); the Egyptian Doctors Association Ireland (EDAI); the Sudanese Doctors in Ireland (SDI); and the Afghan Council of Ireland (AFI).

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