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Question

706. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Justice the current waiting times for citizenship applications by EEA and non-EEA applicants, in tabular form. [9632/21]

708. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Justice the approximate increase in waiting times for citizenship applications due to the Covid-19 pandemic; and if she will provide a year-on-year comparison of average waiting times between 2015 and 2020. [9634/21]

Answer

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): I propose to take Questions Nos. 706 and 708 together.
The average processing time for applications decided in 2020 was 13.5 months. Statistics are not maintained by the Immigration Service of my Department to provide for a breakdown between EEA and non-EEA applicants.
A number of issues have impacted on the processing of citizenship applications over the past 15 months. A High Court case which was subsequently successfully appealed to the Court of Appeal resulted in significant delays in 2019. As well as this, a significant backlog has built up regarding the granting of citizenships due to the inability to hold in person ceremonies during the pandemic, which has prevented the holding of such ceremonies. These are usually attended by hundreds of new citizens and have become a welcome addition to our public and civic life.
The combined impact of the Jones judgment and the Covid-19 disruption has resulted in the loss of over six months processing time. As a result, the processing timeline for standard applications has increased.
Quite aside from those specific issues, 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.
In some instances, the input of several government 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.
With regard to improvements to address these issues, last month, I announced that a temporary system is now in place that will help to significantly clear the backlog over the course of this year. The temporary system enables 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. The new system is in place from 18 January 2021, and my Department will communicate with applicants regarding the requirements, on a phased basis over the next few months until in-person citizenship ceremonies are able to recommence. 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 issued over the last two weeks.
The average processing time in months for citizenship applications for the years 2015 – 2020 are set out in the table below.

Year Average Processing Time (Months)
2015 7
2016 8
2017 7
2018 10
2019 11.5
2020 13.5