705. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Justice the interactions and communications her Department has had with the Department of Health in relation to the migration status of non-EEA doctors since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. [9631/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): The employment of non-EEA doctors is a matter for the employing hospitals and the HSE and my Department ensures that they have the correct immigration permission in line with the work permission granted.
I recognise and acknowledge the crucial role non-EEA doctors 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.
Due to the restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic, I have provided six extensions of immigration permission to 20 April 2021, to ensure that those requiring an immigration permission to work in the state could continue to do so including those providing frontline services. This renewal is on the same basis and with the same conditions attaching to the original permission.
In addition to the granting of immigration permission to doctors entering the State under the terms of an employment permit, issued by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, my Department also grants specific immigration permission to three distinct cohorts of doctors, under the Atypical Working Scheme (AWS), to allow them to work in the State, as follows:
- Locum doctors working in the General Practice;
- Locum doctors providing short-term or emergency cover in hospitals in the State; and
- Sponsored doctors from Gulf States travelling to Ireland to take part in the International Medical Graduate Training Initiative, operated by the HSE.
Just over 150 doctors were granted permissions under the Atypical Working Scheme in 2020 and my Department maintains close contact with the key stakeholders involved in the operation of the AWS in so far as it concerns doctors, including the Department of Health, the Health Services Executive, the National Association of GP Co-Ops and the Forum of Irish Postgraduate Medical Training Bodies.
Regarding citizenship, I was pleased to announce last month that a temporary system is now in place that will enable citizenship applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. This signed statutory declaration replaces the requirement for citizenship applicants to attend citizenship ceremonies, which have been temporarily suspended during COVID-19. It is expected that the 4,000 applicants currently waiting on naturalisation will have been provided with an opportunity to gain citizenship by the end of March and I am pleased to say that more than 500 certificates have recently issued and more will issue in the coming weeks. A significant number of healthcare and other frontline workers who have made extraordinary contributions during the pandemic will also benefit from these new arrangements.