The perception of Ireland’s immigration and asylum system abroad is monitored primarily through Ireland’s representation at a number of international fora, in particular EU bodies and immigration and asylum related organisations such as the General Directors of Immigration Services Conference, GDISC, the Intergovernmental Consultations on migration, asylum and refugees, IGC, and the EU's border agency, FRONTEX. International perceptions are also ascertained and monitored through regular contacts with the UNHCR as well as participation generally through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at relevant UN fora.
The common travel area, CTA, between Ireland and the UK which for many decades has delivered immeasurable economic, social and cultural benefits to all people on the island is of the utmost importance in public policy. In part informed by the experiences of various organisations such as the tourism bodies and tour operators, the immigration authorities of both countries are working together to introduce reciprocal visa arrangements which will afford greater ease of travel between Ireland and the UK for visa required nationals.
In addition, regular feedback on Ireland's visa policy is received from various bodies abroad such as tour operators and the impact of such policies is evidenced by the increased number of visitors coming to Ireland. For example, Central Statistics Office figures indicate that tourist visits from the countries covered by the visa waiver programme increased by almost 21% in the twelve months after the introduction of the programme compared with the twelve preceding months (from 74,153 to 89,482). The programme has been widely welcomed by tourism promotion agencies and tour operators. The Government decided in March last year to extend the programme beyond its original finish date of 31 October 2012 until the end of October 2016 by which time a common travel area visa arrangement should be in place.
Ireland, like its EU counterparts, is bound by EU law together with national legislation and international law such as the UN Convention on Human Rights. On the asylum front, Ireland actively participates in relevant EU bodies and during our presidency of the EU a number of important legislative measures were successfully concluded. As part of these discussions, experiences of the operation of the asylum system across the EU are discussed which contributes to policy formulation and the measures pursued at EU and National level. Similar sharing of experiences take place in other forum such as GDISC and the IGC. In addition, Ireland is an active participant in FRONTEX and both takes the lead and also participates in various operations organised under its auspices. INIS also provides a range of annual statistical returns to the UNHCR and EUROSTAT and these figures are used for research and inform opinion on asylum and immigration related matters.
The operation of an immigration policy in Ireland, no less nor no more than in any Western European country, is a huge challenge. On the one hand, it is a legitimate public requirement for any nation state to maintain and operate appropriate border controls in order to decide who may enter or reside in the State. On the other hand, any such controls have to be proportionate, balanced, fair and commensurate with the State's national interests in the economic sphere, as indeed in other areas of public policy. Striking the right balance between these often competing requirements is a major challenge and, of course, changes from time to time as wider circumstances dictate. Ultimately all immigration policies boil down to a country's right to determine who may or may not enter its territory and that is a well established fundamental principle in all countries which experience inward migration.