Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Questions (621)

Emer Higgins

Question:

621. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Justice if citizenship can be fast-tracked for essential workers in the healthcare system in view of their work on the Covid-19 frontline; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6627/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I recognise the crucial role frontline workers are continuing to play in responding to the threat of COVID-19. They work in a challenging environment and deal with vulnerable people on a daily basis. Their exceptional commitment has been particularly clear throughout the pandemic, during which they have been playing a key role in preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

All applications for a certificate of naturalisation are processed and assessed individually inaccordance with legislation. There are no provisions to apply different criteria depending on the category of employment of the applicant. All applicants are required to meet minimumperiods of reckonable residence and standard checks are carried out as part of the overall process to maintain its integrity.

Due to the restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic, I have provided six extensions of immigration permission to 20 April 2021, to ensure that those requiring an immigration permission to work in the state could continue to do so including those providing frontline services.

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 recently announce that a temporary system is now in place that will enable 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.

Under the temporary new system, up to 4000 qualifying applicants will be asked to complete a statutory declaration that will be sent to them by email from the Citizenship Division of the Immigration Service of my Department and bring it to one of the listed designated officials. The designated official must witness the applicant sign the statutory declaration. The applicant must then send the signed statutory declaration, the appropriate fee and any other requested documentation to Citizenship Division. Final processing will then take place and a certificate of naturalisation, will be sent to the applicant.

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.

It is expected that the 4,000 applicants currently waiting on naturalisation will have been provided with an opportunity to gain citizenship by the end of March and I am pleased to say that more than 500 certificates have already issued this week. A significant number of healthcare and other frontline workers who have made extraordinary contributions during the pandemic will also benefit from these new arrangements over the coming weeks and months.

It remains my intention that large scale ceremonies will recommence once circumstances allow. Since their establishment in 2011, citizenship ceremonies have been joyous occasions which mark the granting of Irish citizenships in a dignified manner and they have become a welcome addition to our public and civic life. In-person ceremonies have been provisionally scheduled to resume in December 2021, subject to the safety of all involved being assured.