91. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice the extent to which improvements can be made in the processing of visas for employment here and the processing of applications for naturalisation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36757/21]


Deputy James Browne: I thank Deputy Durkan for raising this very important issue. The pandemic has created significant challenges for visa processing. Applications are made to Irish embassies and missions worldwide, each with different public health measures in place. This has caused difficulties for individuals and families but the Government has had sound public health reasons for discouraging, and at times prohibiting, non-essential travel. Nevertheless, my Department continues to process visas for essential workers and decisions on employment visas have issued since 25 September 2020. There are currently no significant delays in processing employment visas and my Department's Dublin office is processing employment visas within ten working days. Some 7,780 employment applications have been processed globally since the beginning of April 2020, with almost 34,000 visas processed across all categories. The granting of an employment permit by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is a separate process, with no bearing on whether a visa will subsequently be granted. These are two distinct applications with different checks and due diligence procedures in place in each Department.
Similarly, I appreciate how important the granting of naturalisation is to those who have to apply for it. My Department has continued to adapt and process applications throughout the pandemic. Processing rates, however, have been negatively impacted by the necessary health and safety-related restrictions and from a High Court case in 2019, which was subsequently successfully appealed. As a result, regrettably, there are just over 24,600 applications currently on hand at various stages of processing. Since opening the statutory declaration system in January, we have invited 6,500 applicants to complete the final steps prior to the granting of a certificate of naturalisation. Almost 3,900 people have received their certificates so far. Approximately 900 more will receive them in the coming weeks. Additional staff are being assigned to the administrative team and a number of digitisation measures have also been introduced to increase efficiency.