458. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Justice her views on France’s decision to waive some of the period required for citizenship by naturalisation for frontline workers and reduce it to two years which resulted in over 12,000 workers being granted citizenship; if her attention has been drawn to the action Canada took in granting long-term residency for foreign nationals working on the frontlines; and if she will consider extending this to non-EU nationals working in healthcare during the Covid-19 pandemic by granting them citizenship. [55614/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): I recognise and acknowledge the crucial role frontline workers are continuing to play in responding to the threat of COVID-19. They work in a challenging environment and deal with vulnerable people on a daily basis. Their exceptional commitment has been particularly clear throughout the pandemic, during which they have been playing a key role in preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
However, 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. The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot comment on any measures that may be taken in other jurisdictions.
My Department has continued to accept and process citizenship applications throughout the pandemic and at all levels of public health restrictions. However, processing rates have been negatively impacted by the necessary health and safety related restrictions imposed and it has not been possible to hold in-person citizenship ceremonies since March 2020.
My Department is taking a number of steps to speed up the processing of applications. In January, my Department opened a temporary system to enable these applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. Since the introduction of the temporary system, 8,196 citizenship applicants have been contacted by my Department and 7,405 new Irish citizens have received their certificates of naturalisation. This includes a significant number of healthcare and other frontline workers.
A number of digitisation measures have also been introduced to increase efficiency in the process, including eTax clearance, eVetting and online payments. The end result of the 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. This year, we are on track to deliver approximately 11,000 decisions, significantly exceeding the levels achieved in the last two years. Additional staff have also been assigned to the citizenship team. 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.
To further support healthcare workers making citizenship applications, I announced on 15 November 2021, 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.
Unfortunately, for public health reasons, the in-person citizenship ceremony scheduled for 13 December in Killarney has been postponed. While this is disappointing for all of us, I know that the Deputy will agree that the safety and wellbeing of everyone is paramount. Instead, arrangements are underway in my Department to hold a virtual citizenship celebratory event next month.