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'Archaic' visa law in Ireland keeping people from their families this Christmas

Shashank Chakerwarti said changes introduced this year also interfere with business trips which are often planned last-minute.

Chakerwarti at NCI Diwali (Festival of Lights) this year.
Chakerwarti at NCI Diwali (Festival of Lights) this year.
Image: Vachan Jedidiah

CHANGES TO IRELAND’S re-entry visa system have meant some immigrants are unable to spend Christmas with their families, according to the country’s youngest immigrant peace commissioner.

There was a change to the system in September this year, as the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (Inis) stopped accepting applications for re-entry visas online. Instead, applications had to be sent by the registered postal system five to six weeks before travel. 

Peace commissioner Shashank Chakerwarti told TheJournal.ie that some people have been unable to go home to spend the Christmas period with their families because of the change. 

In some cases they were unable to get an appointment with the immigration service on time which he said delayed their re-entry application. For some, the flight prices escalated during the application period and they were no longer able to afford to travel. 

“Legal resident tax-paying immigrants are subjected to this inhumane and archaic law in the Republic, a law that does not exist anywhere else in the EU,” he said 

The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (Inis) has a note on its website that warned people planning to travel over the Christmas and New Year period to submit their re-entry visa postal applications by 9 November to ensure receiving it in good time.

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie about the re-entry visa system, the Department of Justice said the change was introduced in order to “improve efficiency and enhance the service to customers”.

“As a face to face meeting is not required to issue a re-entry visa, applications are now dealt with by post and these applications are usually processed within 4 to 5 weeks.

“Customers with urgent travel needs can continue to make an emergency appointment for a re-entry visa and their application will be dealt with within 24 hours with additional appointments being made available in this regard. Business people can avail of this facility for urgent travel needs, as can customers who wish to travel home for Christmas.”

The department’s statement is contradicted by information provided on the website if Inis (which falls under the remit of the department).

The Inis statement announcing these changes in September specifically referred to emergency appointments.

It stated that a “limited number of emergency appointments” are available to cover “an unforeseen event such as the death of serious illness of a family member”.

The statement also asked applicants to note that upcoming travel plans [presumably including Christmas plans and business trips] will not be considered an emergency and that documentary evidence would be requested to prove there was a “genuine emergency”.

The department told TheJournal.ie that the requirements for re-entry visas are kept under regular review.

Public consultation

Chakerwarti moved to Ireland from India when he was 12 years old.  In his second year in college, he decided to establish a network called Yuva Ireland to bring young Indian people in Ireland together.

He said the website works as a support system for Indians who have just moved to Ireland and “helps promote entrepreneurship among the community so they can contribute to the Irish economy”.

“We publish blogs on how to apply for an employment permit, how to find accommodation and it links out to different places with more information. We have details of internships, campaigns and also social events like our Bollywood nights.”

Chakerwarti, who is a member of Young Fine Gael, this year became the country’s youngest immigrant peace commissioner after he noticed it was sometimes difficult to find one to sign documents like naturalisation forms. 

He spent a lot of time over the last year campaigning to have the re-entry visa abolished. Aside from the disruption at Christmas, he said it interferes with short business trips that are often planned last-minute. 

Chakerwarti will be holding a public consultation on the issue on 22 January and has an online petition calling for a reversal to the changes has more than 1,900 signatures. 

He said the government should not ignore issues that affect the immigrant population and should give them more attention in the New Year. 

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