The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, today published the annual review of immigration related activity in Ireland for 2013. Providing details of key immigration figures, Minister Shatter also reported on progress in 2013 in delivering his programme of reform in the immigration area and indicated some of his priorities for 2014.

Vital Statistics 2013 (further detail below)

· 166,000 new applications received in 2013. These include visas, residence, citizenship and protection applications.

· 97,000 new or renewed registrations of permission to remain in the State in 2013 (in respect of immigrants intending to stay longer than 90 days in the country).

· 95,000 visa applications; cumulative increase of 14% since 2011. Visa approval rate is 91%. Top 3 nationalities applying for visas were India 16%, Russia 15%, and China 11%.

· Over 30,000 applications for citizenship decided, and 18 citizenship ceremonies held during 2013.

· 12% of population (544,000 persons) is non-Irish per most recent CSO figures. The majority of these come from EU countries. 

Supporting the economy through immigration

Referring to the role of the immigration system in contributing to economic growth Minister Shatter said, "On my appointment as Minister I made it my priority to take steps to harness the previously untapped potential of the immigration system to aid economic activity as part of our national recovery. As these figures demonstrate the initiatives and reforms being pursued are working. Inward investment and enterprise in Ireland is being encouraged. Visa applications to visit Ireland for tourism and business reasons are now higher than they have ever been in the history of the State and many thousands more are visiting Ireland under the terms of the Irish Visa Waiver Programme."

Immigrant investor and entrepreneur programmes. Since the launch of the programmes in 2012, 31 projects have been approved to date representing a total investment of almost €23m with the potential to create almost 300 jobs. Following a review of the Immigrant Investor Programme a number of significant changes were introduced in 2013 to further increase the attractiveness of the programme to foreign investors. Minister Shatter stated that the "initiatives give recognition to the role that talented and successful migrants can make to Ireland’s economic development and the contribution they can make to job creation."

Visa Waiver Programme. In 2013 Thailand, was added to the list of seventeen countries already covered by the Programme which is expected to prove a significant boost to efforts to attract more visitors to Ireland. The Visa Waiver Programme allows visitors or business people who have lawfully entered the UK, including Northern Ireland, on a valid UK short-stay visa, to travel to Ireland without the requirement to obtain an Irish visa.

Official CSO statistics show that visitors from visa waiver countries have increased by almost 40% since the introduction of the Programme. Minister Shatter referred to the initiative as an "unqualified success making a vital contribution to the resurgence in the tourism sector." 

Common Travel Area Visa Arrangements. Building on the success of the Irish Visa Waiver Programme, very positive progress was made with the UK immigration authorities in developing reciprocal Common Travel Area visa arrangements which are planned to commence in 2014. These new visa arrangements will facilitate tourists, business and other eligible visitors in travelling freely within the Common Travel Area using a single visa. This will be achieved by the mutual recognition by each country of short-stay visas issued by the other.

Referring to the initiative as a top priority for 2014, the Minister stated that it "represents the most fundamental and important development in the operation of the Common Travel Area with the potential to attract tens of thousands of additional tourism and business visitors to Ireland." 

Improving immigration services

Outlining key reforms to improve the operation and efficiency of the immigration system Minister Shatter said, "One of my main objectives in the asylum, immigration and citizenship areas has been to reduce backlogs and the length of time applicants are waiting for decisions on their applications. Huge improvements have been made in the citizenship area, visa applications are being processed in a matter of days in the great majority of cases and in the asylum area new applications are processed to completion within months. In 2014 the priority is to work towards similar efficiencies and results in other targeted areas such as applications for Subsidiary Protection and Leave to Remain."

Citizenship application processing. Dramatic progress continued to be made in 2013 in improving the efficiency of the naturalisation process. Since taking office, Minister Shatter has made 68,000 decisions on naturalisation applications, over 30,000 of these in 2013 alone which was an increase of 20% on 2012. He said, "Huge reductions in processing times have been achieved, with over 70% of standard applications now being decided in less than 6 months. This is a major reform given the 115% increase in valid applications since 2008 when processing times were over 2 years and often much longer." The Minister also referred to the success of the citizenship ceremonies introduced for the first time in the State in 2011 saying that almost 18,000 persons had attended 18 such events in 2013.

Measures to assist processing of Subsidiary Protection and Leave to Remain applications. Regulations signed into law by Minister Shatter in late 2013 introduced new procedures for processing subsidiary protection applications, including interviewing applicants as part of the investigation of their claim, by the Offices of the Refugee Applications Commissioner at first instance and, on appeal, by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. The new arrangements are bedding in well and the Minister indicated that he anticipated very significant inroads to be made on the Subsidiary Protection application caseload by the end of 2014.

In addition, to assist the immigration authorities with the processing of Subsidiary Protection and Leave to Remain applications a panel of legally qualified persons has been established. The Minister said that the overall aim is to speed up the processing of applications thereby reducing the time spent by persons in the Direct Provision accommodation system.

Legislative reform of the asylum and immigration system. Legislative reform of the asylum and immigration system remains a key priority. Minister Shatter indicated that work on drafting the new Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill is at an advanced stage and that he expected the legislation to be enacted in 2014. By necessity work on Troika-related legislation, such as the establishment of the Insolvency Service, had been prioritised in 2013 but completion of much of that legislative workload meant that resources are now being reassigned to work on the immigration legislation.

Family Reunification. On 31st December, 2013 the Minister published comprehensive policy guidelines for dealing with family reunification applications. The new guidelines constitute a major statement of policy on immigration with far reaching implications for the State and for immigrant families. While the Government must retain the discretion to determine the State’s approach to immigration, the Minister considers that this clear statement of policy will be of benefit to migrants and all those involved in immigration management.

Managing and protecting our border

The Minister also reported on developments in providing enhanced border control arrangements at Dublin airport, as well as measures to strengthen the security of Ireland’s external border.

Automated border control technology. In addition to the ongoing civilianisation of immigration officer functions at Dublin airport to free up Garda resources for other policing duties, automated border gates (e-gates) were tested at the airport for the first time in 2013. Located at Pier A/D, approximately 115,000 persons used the gates during the trial period.

Minister Shatter commented that automated border gates are being increasingly used in major airports to enhance passengers’ experience on arrival at airports while also strengthening border security and that he was pleased to report on the successful outcome of the trial. He said, "The trial has proven the suitability of e-gates for use at Dublin Airport to provide a more secure and efficient means for clearing passengers through immigration control. My Department is now in discussions with the Dublin Airport Authority to see how best the use of e-gates can be extended on a permanent basis across the airport." 

Immigration data sharing with the UK. The exchange of immigration data between Ireland and the UK prevents immigration abuses and preserves the integrity of the Common Travel Area (CTA) for the majority of genuine individuals who benefit greatly from it. Enhanced data sharing arrangements were put in place with the UK authorities in 2013 to establish information in respect of Irish visa applicants with an adverse UK immigration and/or criminal history. Under these arrangements the details of over 75,000 Irish visa applicants were cross-checked against UK records in 2013.

The Minister remarked that "through working with the UK to protect the Common Travel Area (CTA) from abuse by sharing immigration data, the integrity of the CTA is being preserved to the mutual benefit of both countries and all persons who wish to travel to or reside in the CTA area by legitimate means." The Minister also said that in 2014 initiatives to improve systems and processes between Ireland and the UK to collect and share visa data will be prioritised. 

Key figures for 2013

Overall in 2013, approximately 166,000 new applications (i.e. visa, residence, protection and citizenship) were received by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS); decisions were issued in almost 176,600 cases (a proportion of decisions issued relate to applications submitted in previous years); and 97,100 new or renewed registrations of permission to remain in the State were issued by the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

Registrations All Non-EEA nationals remaining in the State for longer than 90 days are required to register with the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

The provisional 2013 year end estimate of non-EEA nationals with permission to remain in the State is approximately 120,000. This compares with 121,000 at the end of 2012. Meanwhile, the figure in 2010 was 133,200. The drop in permissions to remain in the state since then is primarily as a direct result of INIS’s continuing efforts to reduce the backlog of citizenship cases. In effect, the success of the citizenship project has impacted very significantly on the number of people who are required to have permission to remain in the State. The majority of persons with permission to remain in the State are here for work or study purposes.

The current top 6 registered nationalities which account for over 50% of all persons registered are India (11%), Brazil (10%), China (9%), Nigeria (8%), USA (6%) and Philippines (6%).

CSO statistics show that overall Ireland’s non-Irish national population accounts for 12% of the total population or some 544,000 people. The breakdown of non-nationals in the State shows that the majority are from EU countries.

Visas Provisional figures indicate that approximately 95,000 entry visa applications were received in 2013, an increase of 8% on 2012 and a cumulative increase of 14% on 2011. The approval rate for entry visa applications was 91%. The top 5 nationalities applying for visas in 2013 were India (16%), Russia (15%), China (11%), Nigeria (6%) and Turkey (5%).

Naturalisation/Citizenship The major reforms introduced by the Minister to the processing of citizenship applications aimed at tackling the backlog of applications have resulted in a significant increase in the number of cases decided. Over 30,000 applications were decided in 2013 compared to 25,000 in 2012 and 16,000 in 2011.

Minister Shatter introduced citizenship ceremonies for the first time in the State in 2011. Almost 18,000 persons attended 18 such events in 2013. These ceremonies, which underscore the importance of the granting of citizenship and ensure that it is marked by a sense of occasion for our new citizens, have been universally welcomed. The ceremonies will continue to be held throughout 2014.

Students The number of non-EEA national students registered to study or in training in the State at the end of 2013 was approximately 39,600. This equates to 33% of the total number of non-EEA nationals with permission to remain in the State.

Broken down by education sector, 39% of students are pursuing Higher Education (Degree Programme) study, 21% are engaged in further education (non Degree) courses, 27% are taking language courses and 13% other (e.g. secondary school).

International Protection and Asylum Provisional figures indicate that 946 applications for asylum were submitted in 2013. The equivalent figure for 2012 was 956. The comparative figure in 2002, when the volume of asylum applications was at a peak, was 11,600.

Provisional figures for end 2013 indicate that there were approximately 4,370 persons seeking international protection accommodated in direct provision centres in the State, some 470 fewer than at the end of 2012 and almost 30% fewer than the number of persons accommodated at the end of 2010 which stood at just over 6,100.

Deportations/Removals Almost 2,250 persons were deported/removed from the State in 2013.

This number comprises of some 1,890 persons who were refused entry into the State at ports of entry and were returned to the place from where they had come.

In addition, 210 failed asylum seekers and illegal migrants were deported from the State in 2013. The top 5 nationalities deported were from Nigeria, China, Mauritius, Albania and Pakistan. A total of 86 persons were deported on charter flights and 124 on scheduled commercial aircraft. In 2013, Ireland participated in 10 chartered deportation flights, 5 of which were organised in conjunction with EU agency FRONTEX which coordinates removals throughout the EU.

A further 84 asylum seekers were transferred to the EU member state in which they first applied for asylum under the Dublin Regulation. In addition, a further 63 EU nationals were returned to their countries of origin on foot of an EU Removal Order.

Voluntary Returns Rather than be issued with a deportation order, provisional figures show a total of 425 persons chose to return home voluntarily in 2013. Of that number, 340 were assisted to return by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The top 5 nationalities of returnees were Brazil, Moldova, China, Mauritius and Malaysia. This is a hugely cost effective programme and every effort is made to increase its usage among migrants who wish to return home.

6 January 2014