Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Questions (44)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

44. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the average length of time it takes to process an application for a visa for a person granted a work permit here by the Minister of Business, Enterprise and Innovation; his plans to streamline this process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26672/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Justice)

It takes quite a considerable amount of time to get a work permit for this country. My question relates to how long, on average, it takes someone coming from an EEA country to get the subsequent visa they need to work here.

I am advised by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, of my Department that decisions regarding the grant or refusal of visas are made in a number of INIS visa offices overseas, the INIS visa office in Dublin and at over 80 Irish Embassies around the world. The embassies, which are under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, process certain visa applications under delegated sanction from my Department. The processing times for visa decisions are published on the visa pages of each visa office and embassy website. As of last week, 18 June 2019, the average time taken to process an employment visa received in either the INIS visa offices in Dublin or overseas was three weeks. The processing time in each location is determined by a number of factors, such as the volume and complexity of applications, individual circumstances, peak application periods, seasonal factors and the resources available. While every effort is made to process applications as quickly as possible, processing times will inevitably vary as a result. Notwithstanding that the visa service is currently experiencing an increase in the number of visa applications across most categories, processing times are on a par in many cases and there have been significant improvements compared to the corresponding time last year. A number of measures have been put in place to deal with what is a significantly increased demand for visas on the part of people wishing to come to Ireland, including the assignment of additional staff to process applications and the streamlining of visa processes where possible. I acknowledge that my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, also has a role and function in respect of the processing of applications for work permits.

This is part of the problem, because it takes approximately 13 weeks for someone to get a work permit and only then is he or she allowed submit a fully correct application. If it is not fully correct, it will be refused and he or she will have to start again. When the visa waiting time is added in, we are talking about quite considerable lengths of time. I cannot understand why the two processes cannot run in parallel so that when a person receives a work permit their visa application would be assessed and become available at the same time. It is ridiculous that people who have gotten their work permits have to go back and get a visa. The Minister indicated that in some cases it does run in parallel and the Minister has delegated sanction. Can he explain what percentage of work permit cases are processed on that basis?

I acknowledge that while the visa issue is primarily one for my Department, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has an important role and function in processing applications for work permits. In the processing of visa applications through my Department, we must consider a broader range of issues dealing with immigration. I invite the Deputy to agree with me that there are a number of concerns here, the central concern being, as with all visa services worldwide, the need to strike an appropriate balance between protecting the country's vital national interests by maintaining an effective immigration regime, while at the same time endeavouring to facilitate travel for those who meet the criteria. Each visa application is therefore decided on its own merits, on a case-by-case basis, taking all factors into account.

I am not arguing with the need for a comprehensive system or the need to make a visa worth something. Nobody is arguing with that. What I am curious about is why everything has to work linearly rather than in parallel and why visa applications cannot be processed simultaneously to the applications being processed in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation so that when one is available the other is too. Visas might have to be issued subject to work permits, but so be it. It seems to me that by doing everything sequentially rather than in parallel, we are adding to the length of time though not to the thoroughness of the investigation. Would consideration be given to running the two processes as one parallel process between the two Departments, which is co-ordinated at the one time?

I wish to assure the Deputy that management is kept under review on a regular basis. Staff resources available for processing are organised in a timely way.

A number of measures recently have been put in place to deal with a significantly increased demand for visas to Ireland, including the assignment of extra staff.

I assure the Deputy that INIS, under my Department's remit, continues to work closely with colleagues in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation to ensure the process is effective and efficient. I assure him that greater consideration will be given to streamlining the process, procedures and practices. For example, earlier this year, new arrangements were set in place to enable spouses of critical skills permit holders to gain immediate access to the workplace on arrival. Streamlined processes have also been set in place for de facto partners of permit holders.

I am happy to look at the specific issue raised by the Deputy and will communicate with him in writing following this session.