I am advised by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, of my Department that decisions on the grant or refusal of visas are made in a number of INIS visa offices overseas, the visa office in Dublin and at embassies of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which process many visa applications under delegated sanction from my Department.
The Deputy will agree there has been an increase in the number of visa applications across most categories of people wishing to come to Ireland for a variety of purposes. More than 140,000 applications were received last year, an increase of 12% on the previous year. This reflects the trend in recent years, with applications having increased by 40% since 2014 when slightly more than 100,000 applications were received. The trend is expected to continue in the coming years. Much of the growth is due to increased economic activity and greater connectivity generally. Notwithstanding that, processing times are on a par with those for the same time last year and in many cases have improved upon them.
More generally, there has been an improvement in processing times for visas in recent weeks. It is expected that this will improve further in the coming weeks and into the spring. However, processing times in visa offices may vary having regard to seasonal demands, the volume of applications received, the merits of individual applications, their complexity, available resources and whether there is a need to seek further information, investigate or inquire further. The work involved and the required checks may, therefore, take some time depending on the complexity or individual circumstances of an application.
I assure the Deputy that every effort will be made to keep processing times to a minimum. Several measures have been put in place to deal with the increased demand for visas to come to Ireland.
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This has included the assignment of additional staff to help process applications and, more generally, the streamlining of visa processes where possible. I am advised that this is making a difference such that processing times are generally within the INIS administrative target which takes into account the time required to undertake essential checks. The targets have not been adjusted to take account of the increased numbers of visa applications in certain locations. The position in this regard is being kept under review and will be monitored closely in the coming months.