289. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of visa offices here and abroad, respectively; the number of staff employed in each; the cost and benefits of each office; the number of applications processed by each office in 2018; the training given to visa officers before and during their assignments; if all relevant documentation, legislation, guidelines and support is provided to each visa officer to ensure consistency and fairness both to the officers and the applicants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5572/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I am advised by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department that there are currently seven overseas Visa Offices in addition to the Visa Office in Dublin. They are located in Abuja, Beijing, London, Moscow, Ankara, Abu Dhabi and New Delhi. In addition, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade process certain visa applications in Irish Embassies abroad under delegated sanction from my Department.
The visa process has a crucial role to play in supporting economic activity in the State through facilitation of tourism from emerging markets, promotion of Ireland as a destination for international education, facilitating those coming here for business and work, etc. As with all visa services worldwide, the central concern in deciding on visa applications is to strike an appropriate balance between protecting the country's vital national interests by maintaining an effective immigration regime while at the same time not placing unnecessary or unreasonable obstacles in the way of intending visitors.
There has been a significant increase in the number of visa applications with over 140,000 entry visa applications received worldwide last year, up 12% on the previous year. This reflects the trend in recent years which shows that applications have risen some 40% since 2014 when just over 100,000 were received. This trend is expected to continue in the coming years. Notwithstanding this increase, processing times have been maintained and in some cases improved on over the period.
The Table outlines the number of personnel engaged and the number of visa applications processed or decided in 2018 (at distinct from applications received) at each location, including applications processed under delegated sanction by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The volume of visas processed represents just one output metric, and is not reflective of complexity involved with particular applications with the most complex visa applications processed or transferred from abroad to Dublin for processing.
I am advised that the total expenditure associated with the operation of the INIS Offices abroad in 2017 was some €3.67m, the latest year for which total expenditure is available. The overall aim of the system is that it is self-financing.
All Visa Officers are provided with training in the Dublin Office prior to posting abroad. Many of them are already experienced in visa matters and some will have served abroad previously. While abroad, they continue to receive training with access to all support and advice necessary from the Dublin office, in order to carry out their duties.
More generally, staffing is kept under review and supplemented by the temporary re-assignment of staff from within INIS when the arises, as well as overtime at peak periods.
|Processing Offices||Visa applications processed in 2018||Number of staff as at 31/01/2019 (including locally recruited staff in INIS Visa Offices)|
|Dublin (including applications transferred from Offices abroad)||14,529||29|