Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice the average waiting time for citizenship applications in each of the years 2016 to 2020 and to date in 2021, in tabular form. [20190/21]
1480. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice the number of applications for Irish citizenship that were received in each of the years 2016 to 2020 and to date in 2021, in tabular form. [20191/21]
1481. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice the number of Irish citizenship applicants who are currently waiting longer than 12 months for a decision on their application. [20192/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): I propose to take Questions Nos. 1479, 1480 and 1481 together.
The processing of citizenship applications has had a number of challenges over the past two years. A legal challenge was taken in the High Court by an applicant who was refused a certificate of naturalisation due to his absences from the State during the last year continuous prior to the date of his application. The outcome of this ruling – which was subsequently successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal – resulted in significant delays to the processing of citizenship applications in 2019. This has been compounded by COVID-19 restrictions from March 2020, which has resulted in further significant challenges to the delivery of normal services.
Additionally, for a broad range of reasons, some cases will take longer than others to process. Processing timescales can be impacted by incomplete applications having to be returned; further documentation being required from the applicant; where the payment of the required certificate fee is awaited; or if the applicant has not been engaging with the Immigration Service of my department.
In some instances, the input of several public agencies, both within and outside the jurisdiction is needed and the request and receipt of information from these sources can result in delays in processing some applications. Issues can also arise at the final stage of the naturalisation process, for example, where additional information comes to light which is required to be considered before a final decision is taken.
The average processing time for applications and the number of applications on hand are set out in the tables below.
|Year||Applications Received||Average processing time (months) for decisions reached in Calendar Year|
|Number of Months application on Hand||Number of Applications|
|0 - 6 months||4983|
|6 - 12 months||3616|
|12 months +||16,117|
I am conscious that a significant backlog has built up regarding the granting of citizenships due to the inability to hold in person ceremonies during Covid-19. On 18 January 2021, I was pleased to announce a temporary system that enables citizenship applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty.
My Department achieved the target of communicating with 4,000 people by the end of March 2021. Around 1,200 people have received their Irish citizenship in the 10 weeks since I opened the temporary statutory declaration process. A further 1,159 people have returned their signed statutory declarations and the Immigration Service will be sending them their certificates of naturalisation in the coming weeks.
It has also been decided to extend the statutory declaration process to a further 2,500 people and by the end of June, it is expected that 6,500 people will have been given the opportunity to complete their Irish citizenship.
It remains my intention that large scale ceremonies will recommence once circumstances allow. In-person ceremonies have been provisionally scheduled to resume in December 2021, subject to the safety of all involved being assured.
Plans for the digitalisation of the naturalisation process are well advanced, in line with my recent announcement to significantly modernise the Justice Sector through increased digital and ICT investment.
The end result of the digitisation process will be to free up additional resources to focus on enhanced customer service delivery, ensuring the integrity of the process is protected and processing applications in a timely and efficient manner.