136. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice the time it takes to deal with immigration cases within her Department; if the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on dealing with cases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57782/21]


Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on my Department's immigration service delivery. In line with public health advice, my Department has implemented a suite of measures to help reduce the spread of the virus. This has unavoidably led to a reduction in processing capacity across many business areas. We continue to operate to the best of our ability and a number of actions have been taken to reduce the impact on immigration processing times.
I have provided the attached table for the Deputy on the current waiting times across the main immigration application categories. While COVID-19 has undoubtedly had an impact on all of these areas, it is important to note that other factors may also play a role in determining processing times.

ISD Operational Area Application type Current Average Processing time
Visas (Dublin Office) Type C – Short stay (Business, tourism, visit family etc.) 3 weeks
Type D – Long stay (study, employment, join family etc.) 2-4 months (depending on sub-category)
Other 11 months
Preclearance Family Member of UK National, Minister of Religion, De Facto etc.  2-4 months (depending on sub-category)
International Protection Office Applications for International Protection (includes decisions on Permission to Remain at 1st Instance).  14 months for prioritised cases and 23 months for other cases
The Atypical Working Scheme Unit ATWS One week
Citizenship Division Applications for a certificate of naturalisation 23 months
Registration Office Online registration renewal (Dublin) 9/10 weeks

In terms of citizenship applications, in addition to the Covid-19 disruption, a High Court case in 2019, subsequently successfully appealed, also resulted in significant delays and the loss of over six months’ processing time. There are currently 22,200 applications on hand, of which approximately 3,500 adult and 300 minor applications are in the final stages of processing. A number of actions have been taken to maximise processing capability. For example, while it has not been possible to hold in-person citizenship ceremonies since the pandemic began, in January, I introduced a temporary statutory declaration process, which has seen more then 7,400 new citizens receive their certificate of naturalisation since then.
In relation to visa processing, the Deputy will appreciate that the processing time at each visa office and location worldwide is determined by a number of factors, in addition to COVID-19 restrictions, such as the volumes and complexity of applications, whether investigation is required or not, peak application periods - this being the busiest time of the year for visa applications generally - and the resources available.
The International Protection Office has also been seriously impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The IPO is currently implementing a number of measures to speed up processing times, including a new case management function, restructuring of the processing division, an increase in the number of staff trained to make recommendations/decisions and removing any inefficiencies from the process following an end-to-end process review, which I have recently published.
The Registration Office of my Department has also had to reduce the number of in person appointments that can be offered and the Public Office has unfortunately been closed during the highest level of public health restrictions, for the safety of our customers and staff. To mitigate against this, eight temporary extension of immigration permissions have been provided, the most recent to 15 January 2022.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the important role played by the Border Management Unit of my Department in supporting the public health measures introduced in relation to international travel. These duties have been implemented in addition to the core BMU function of immigrating arriving passengers at Dublin Airport and I am grateful to the staff for their professionalism and dedication during this challenging time.
I trust that the information that I have set out for the Deputy will clearly demonstrate that my Department and our frontline immigration service providers are doing all that we can to continue to provide a quality service to our customers during this unprecedented period.