Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Questions (647, 648)

Martin Kenny

Question:

647. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice the number of applications for citizenship received by Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service monthly in each of the years from 2016 to 2020; the length of time it took to process these applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4308/21]

View answer

Martin Kenny

Question:

648. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice if additional resources will be provided to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service in order to process applications for citizenship in a more timely manner; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4309/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 647 and 648 together.

The spreadsheet found at the link contains the number of applications for citizenship received by the Citizenship Division of the Immigration Service of my Department monthly in each of the years 2016 to 2020. The table below also sets out the average processing time (in months) for applications in each of the years 2016 to 2020.

Year

Average Processing Time (Months)

2016

7.80

2017

7.39

2018

10.40

2019

11.6

2020

13.5

In general, the current target is that it should take around 12 months for a standard application for a certificate of naturalisation to be processed from the date it is received to the date a decision is made. However, for a broad range of reasons, some cases will take longer than others to process.

Processing timescales can be impacted by incomplete applications having to be returned; further documentation being required from the applicant; where the payment of the required certificate fee is awaited; or if the applicant has not been engaging with the Immigration Service.

In some instances, the input of several government agencies, both within and outside the jurisdiction is needed and the request and receipt of information from these sources can result in delays in processing some applications. Issues can also arise at the final stage of the naturalisation process, for example, where additional information comes to light which is required to be considered before a final decision is taken.

Additionally a number of issues have impacted on the processing of citizenship applications over the past 15 months. A High Court case which was subsequently successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal resulted in significant delays. This has been compounded by the COVID-19 restrictions which have impacted the delivery of normal services to date this year. The combined impact of the Jones judgment and the COVID-19 disruption has resulted in the loss of over six months processing time. As a result, the processing timeline for standard applications has increased to 12 months.

I am conscious that a significant backlog has built up regarding the granting of citizenships due to the inability to hold in person ceremonies during Covid-19. Unfortunately, the pandemic has prevented the holding of such ceremonies, which are usually attended by hundreds of people and which have become a welcome addition to our public and civic life.

I was pleased to announce last week that a temporary system is now in place that will enable up to 4000 citizenship applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. This signed statutory declaration replaces the requirement for citizenship applicants to attend citizenship ceremonies, which have been temporarily suspended during COVID-19.

The new system is in place from 18 January 2021, and my Department will communicate with applicants regarding the requirements, on a phased basis over the next few months until in-person citizenship ceremonies are able to recommence.

In addition to the provision of an alternative platform to large-scale citizenship ceremonies, work is well advanced on the following suite of measures designed to deal with the current unprecedented level of demand being witnessed:

- Additional staffing resources are being assigned to the Citizenship Division. Attendant to this development, restructuring of the organisational structure of the Division is currently underway to ensure optimal customer service delivery.

- In the context of communications, the Citizenship website has been significantly revamped to make it more user friendly, As part of this process, a new online chat conversation application, or “Chatbot” called Tara was introduced last December. This provides users with an instant response to frequently asked questions and mimics real-time text or message exchanges with a member of staff. There have been over 4,600 interactions on the Chatbot since it launched.

- Plans for the digitalisation of the naturalisation process are also well advanced, through increased digital and ICT investment. As part of this process, eTax-clearance for citizenship applicants has been introduced. Online payments have been trialled for applications from minors and the process is currently being rolled out to adult applications on a phased basis.

The end result of the digitisation process will be to free up additional resources to focus on enhanced customer service delivery, ensuring the integrity of the process is protected and processing applications in a timely and efficient manner.

Applications