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Column Why are we making citizenship difficult for those who are entitled to it?

If someone is willing to contribute to Irish society why do we put barriers in their way? asks Dr Matt Cannon.

RECENTLY THE IMMIGRANT Council launched a report which highlighted that only 13 per cent of migrants opt for citizenship. It pointed out that Ireland is far below the European average in regard to the number of people who apply for citizenship: an indication that Ireland may be failing to integrate new communities.

The reaction from Minister Alan Shatter to the Immigrant Council’s report was quick, a little bit like that of a scorned lover (or maybe I spent too much time reading the Minister’s novel). The Minister was quick to point out that the figures used in the report were from 2008 and that incredible administrative leaps have been made in the processing of applications:

The Report uses figures from 2008 as the basis for its analysis. In that year a total of 3,117 certificates of naturalisation were granted. The corresponding figure for 2012 was almost 23,400. This represents an increase of 650 per cent in the numbers granted… Since coming into office I have made decision on over 56,000 applications and 80 per cent of citizenship cases are decided within 6 months compared to 2-3 years back in 2008. (Statement by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, July 29, 2013)

Barriers to citizenship

While a 650 per cent increase is a near miraculous change, what is missing in the Minister’s statement is the acknowledgement that although the administrative processing figures have changed, the barriers to citizenship pointed out in the Immigrant Council’s report remains, and are as valid now as they were in 2008.  Administrative efficiency is a good thing, and it will undoubtedly have an impact on those that opted out because they perceived the citizenship process to be a long, slow wait, but what the Minister failed to acknowledge is that there are other structural factors which also prevent citizenship.

The above quote embodies those structural problems when the Minister states that he made the decision on over 56,000 applications.  This highlights the inefficiency of the Irish citizenship application process which relies on ministerial discretion as a core part of the application process. One of the key findings of the report is that ministerial discretion leads to a lack of transparency and unequal treatment of applicants with particular regard to the interpretation of the ‘good character’ and economic resource requirements.

Why, in a modern immigration system, must individual cases need Ministerial approval? Aside from the obvious demonstration that the Minister has impressive multi-tasking skills there is a need to question a system that lacks the transparency to provide applicants reasons for their refusal, and furthermore does not allow for appeal of those decisions.

The cost

For many, however, the desire to integrate and become a citizen is prohibited not only by structural concerns but also by financial.  The fees, which also have not changed to meet with shifting economic times, include a charge of €175 for submitting the naturalisation application, and €950 for the certificate of naturalisation once the initial application is approved.  These are prohibitive for many migrants who meet all of the citizenship requirements, but find that additional fees totalling €1,125 is a lot to pay during a recession.

Of course, difficult economic times means that the fees are unlikely to change as the Government receives a substantial amount in citizenship fees. According to a recent report in Metro Eireann revenue from the Government’s naturalisation and citizenship fees amounts to approximately €5 million over the past 5 years. This will undoubtedly continue to rise with the increasing administrative efficiency of the department.

Contrast this with the budget allocation for the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration in 2013 is €2.5 million, which is the same as it was for 2012.  The difference between what is collected in citizenship fees and what is spent on integration is sizeable.  While the government is happy to collect fees from potential citizens, it appears reticent to support the integration of new citizens.

Does citizenship mean integration?  That’s probably a larger question, but for those who have met all the requirements it is an important step in the integration process.  So, although the administration has improved the waiting times, many of the original barriers remain. When someone has committed to all of the legal requirements to become a citizen and is willing to contribute to Irish society, we must ask ourselves: why do we continue to place barriers in the way of new citizens?

Full Statement by Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence click here.

Dr Matt Canon(@DrMattCannon)  is the integration policy officer with Doras Luimní, an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation working to support and promote the rights of all migrants living in Limerick and the wider Mid-West region. He is also a lecturer at the University of Limerick.

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