As the Deputy is aware, I recently announced a number of customer focused immigration changes, in particular for our citizenship applicants.
I am deeply conscious of how important the granting of naturalisation is to those who apply for it. My Department has continued to accept and process citizenship applications throughout the pandemic and at all levels of public health restrictions and is on track to make 11,000 citizenship decisions this year. We continue to explore new ways of processing citizenship applications in a timely and efficient manner, improving service to our customers and reducing waiting times. To date, over 7,400 new Irish citizens have received their certificate of naturalisation through the temporary statutory declaration process that I opened in January.
My recent announcement that customers will no longer be required to submit their original passport with their initial application is another way that we are reducing the administrative burden on applicants.
While I am extremely grateful to all healthcare workers for their exceptional commitment during the pandemic, the Deputy will appreciate that all applications for a certificate of naturalisation are processed and assessed individually in accordance with the legislation. There are no provisions to apply different criteria depending on the category of employment of the applicant. All applicants are required to meet minimum periods of reckonable residence and standard checks are carried out as part of the overall process to maintain its integrity.
Notwithstanding this, to further support healthcare workers making their citizenship applications, you will be aware that I also recently announced that, for doctors who are employed in the HSE or in Voluntary Hospitals, the provision of a “Medical Practitioner Employment History Summary” will be accepted as proof of residence. I know that this will be very much welcomed by doctors who face very unique challenges arising from moving hospitals as part of their training.
Additionally, a number of digitisation measures have also been introduced to increase efficiency in the citizenship application process, including eTax clearance, eVetting and online payments. The end result of this digitisation process will be to free up more staff to focus on processing applications in a timely and efficient manner, to improve service to our customers and reduce waiting times. Based on these measures, my Department's objective is to achieve an improved timeframe of 6-9 months for decisions on a majority of applications during 2022.