Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Ceisteanna (41)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

41. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he is satisfied with the turnaround time for visa application decisions; and his plans to designate additional resources to expedite the process. [4394/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Justice)

My question regards the turnaround time for visa application decisions and whether the Minister plans to designate additional resources to expedite the process.

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.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

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.

I tabled a question to the Minister before Christmas regarding the delay in getting appointments. In reply, he stated that a new online system was being considered and would be developed over the coming year or so, that there would be additional staff and that offices would open on Saturdays and Sundays. Could those measures be implemented in the visa application process? It is only when contacted by people with particular difficulties that one becomes aware of the system. A case of which I am aware involved a person who applied three months before the deadline because a family issue required him to return to his country of origin. However, the decision on his visa was made almost at the last minute. Another person who had an offer of good employment and did not want to go into the black economy was trying to get his visa expedited as quickly as possible to take up that offer of employment because he wanted to be in genuine employment in which he would pay his taxes. Cases such as that bring home the inordinate delays experienced by some people and the need for a quicker response.

I do not disagree with what the Deputy stated. It is important that every effort is made to streamline the process and reallocate staff to particular locations as the demand or requirement appears to necessitate. Several measures have been put in place to deal with the increased demand, including the assignment of additional staff to cities such as New Delhi and Beijing to help process applications. More generally, a system of streamlining the visa processing where possible has been implemented. Staff have been temporarily deployed abroad to help to process visas when the need arises. I assure the Deputy that we will continue to keep the position under review. I acknowledge her information in that regard.

I acknowledge that the system is fair and transparent. My engagement with INIS has been good and I acknowledge the work it does. However, there is a need to address the significant delay in processing some applications, particularly in emergencies.

The situation on some parts of the international stage is improving. I acknowledge that there were some challenges. I assure the Deputy and the House that I will continue to monitor the situation and that we will do everything possible to ensure an efficient and effective process.