· Report on key immigration figures

· 2015 priorities for Immigration Service to include completion of civilianisation of border control at Dublin Airport, reform of the asylum system and an online appointment system for re-entry visa applicants

· 42 new recruits start public service careers in Immigration Service today as part of civilianisation of border control at Dublin Airport

26 January, 2015

Frances Fitzgerald T.D., Minister for Justice and Equality, today published the annual review of immigration related activity in Ireland for 2014. The Minister provided key immigration figures for 2014 and reported on achievements in the immigration area over the past year as well as outlining some of her priorities for 2015.

Publishing the report the Minister stated, “In 2014, the total number of new applications for visas, residence and citizenship received by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service of my Department reached record levels.

“These figures illustrate that the management and operation of an effective and modern immigration system continues to be an important function of the State.

“Since my appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality I have prioritised measures contributing to the effective management and continuing reform of the immigration system as well as initiatives contributing to economic activity. There has been significant progress in 2014 on key reforms and initiatives such as the historic British Irish Visa Scheme and the civilianisation of immigration functions. In 2015, further ambitious reforms of the immigration system will be prioritised including a new single procedure for the asylum system and completion of the civilianisation of border control at Dublin Airport."

Supporting the economy through immigration

· British Irish Visa Scheme. This historic initiative which aims to boost tourism and business visitors to Ireland by facilitating visa required nationals to travel freely between Ireland and the UK using a single visa issued by either country was launched by Minister Fitzgerald and the UK Home Secretary in London in October 2014.

Conceived and implemented by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service in cooperation with the UK Home Office, the landmark initiative will mean that tourists, business visitors and other eligible visitors will be able, for the first time, to visit both the UK and Ireland, including moving freely between north and south of the island of Ireland on a single visa.

The Minster reported that the Scheme commenced in China in October and stated that the target for 2015 is to complete the worldwide rollout with India being the next country to benefit in the coming weeks.

· Immigrant investor and entrepreneur programmes. During 2014, 25 applications for residence under the Immigrant Investor Programme were approved and 12 applications were approved under the Start-up Entrepreneur Programme. This brings to the total number of projects approved since the launch of these programmes to 41 under the Immigration Investor Programme and 30 under the Start-up Entrepreneur Programme. The Minister said that she was pleased to report that the projects represent a combined investment commitment of over €40 million in Ireland.

Improving immigration services

· Civilianisation of immigration services. In September, Minister Fitzgerald announced a major programme to civilianise immigration functions currently undertaken by members of An Garda Síochána. These functions include frontline immigration checks at Dublin Airport and immigration registration functions. This will result in approximately 125 Gardaí being redeployed; 75 as a result of the civilianisation of immigration checks at Dublin Airport and 50 from the transfer of the immigration permission registration function from An Garda Síochána to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service of the Department of Justice and Equality. The Minister has set the completion of the civilianisation of border control functions at Dublin Airport in 2015 as a key priority.

Today, 42 new recruits started their public service careers with INIS and will be assigned to Dublin Airport on border control duties when they complete a comprehensive training programme. Further assignments will be made over the coming months to complete the civilianisation of border control at the Airport.

· Student Migration. Ireland continues to attract high numbers of non-EEA national students to study at degree level and for English language training. For the period January to end November 2014 almost 49,500 persons were given permission to be in the State as students. This compares with 45,800 for the same period in 2013.

Referring to the closure of several private sector English language colleges in 2014, and evidence of significant levels of immigration abuse in the sector, Minister Fitzgerald said that the State has worked hard to develop a reputation for quality education services which is why the Government approved a package of reforms to the international education sector and student immigration system. These reforms are designed to provide certainty and clarity for international students coming to Ireland, to prioritise education over work, to give effect to an enhanced inspection and compliance regime and to further align the student migration system with the strategic objective.

· Citizenship application processing. Minister Fitzgerald reported that the backlog of naturalisation applications awaiting a decision more than six months, which stood at over 22,000 in March 2011, has been comprehensively dealt with, despite a significant increase in valid application volumes in the intervening period. Since the implementation of the far-reaching reforms to the citizenship process in 2011, decisions have been made in over 90,000 applications and the processing time for the vast majority of standard applications has been reduced from 31 months to less than 6 months. The Minster also referred to the ongoing success of the citizenship ceremonies of which there were 18 such events in 2014.

Key Indicators of Immigration Activity in 2014

· Registrations. All non-EEA nationals remaining in the State for longer than 90 days are required to register with An Garda Síochána. The provisional 2014 year end estimates of non-EEA nationals with permission to remain in the State is approximately 95,000, compared to 107,000 at the end of 2013.

The current top 6 registered nationalities which account for over 50% of all persons registered are Brazil (12%), India (11%), China (9%), USA (7%), Nigeria (6%), and Philippines (5%). The majority of persons with permission to remain in the State are here for work or study purposes.

· Overall in 2014, approximately 172,000 new applications (i.e. visa, residence, protection and citizenship) were received by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS); decisions were issued in almost 179,000 cases (a proportion of decisions issued relate to application submitted in previous years); and 92,000 new or renewed registrations of permission to remain in the State were issued by the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

· Visas. Provisional figures indicate that approximately 101,500 entry visa applications for both short and long stay visits were received in 2014, an increase of 6% on 2013 and a cumulative increase of 22% since 2011. The approval rate for entry visa applications was 91%. The top 5 nationalities applying for visas in 2014 were India (17%), Russia (14%), China (11%), Nigeria (6%) and Saudi Arabia (5%).

Managing and protecting our border and immigration system

· Automated border gates. Over 260,000 passengers successfully used the e-gates in 2014 which is one of the highest per-gate productivity levels in Europe. In 2014 the operating hours of the four automated border gates (e-gates) at Dublin airport were extended to a 24/7 basis. Minister Fitzgerald stated that plans are being finalised for greater use of border management technologies such as automatic border controls and advance passenger information systems to make the entry experience at Dublin Airport as smooth as possible while maintaining the integrity of our main entry point to the State. In 2015 extending the use of e-gates at Dublin airport will be prioritised.

· Immigration data sharing with the UK. In 2014, Minister Fitzgerald and the UK Home Secretary signed a new agreement for the sharing of immigration data between both countries’ immigration authorities. This comprehensive agreement is aimed at protecting the Common Travel Area (CTA) from abuse as well as providing the means on which to extend the benefits of borderless travel between the two countries to genuine visitors through initiatives such as the British Irish Visa Scheme. In 2014, under data sharing arrangements the details of over 100,000 Irish visa applicants were checked against UK records.

· Collection of biometrics of visa applicants. The requirement for applicants of Irish visas to provide their fingerprints as part of the visa application process was extended to Pakistan and China in 2014. This has already been a requirement in Nigeria since 2010. The collection of visa biometrics is becoming an increasingly integral part of visa application processes worldwide as a means to combat immigration abuses such as false identities. In the case of Ireland the collection of this data is also a necessary aspect of the operation of the British Irish Visa Scheme with the UK. The roll-out to other countries of the requirement to provide visa biometrics will continue in 2015.

· Deportations/Removals from the State. Approximately, 2,360 persons were deported/removed from the State in 2014. This figure comprises some 2,147 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, 111 failed asylum seekers and illegal migrants were deported from the State, 87 EU nationals were returned to their countries of origin on foot of an EU Removal Order and 17 asylum seekers were transferred under the Dublin Regulation to the EU member stated in which they first applied for asylum.

· Voluntary Returns. Provisional figures show that a total of 237 persons chose to return home voluntarily in 2014. Of that number, 189 were assisted by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

· Targeting immigration abuses. The Minister welcomed new legislation passed in 2014, the Civil Registration Act 2014, which she said would strengthen the arm of the State in tackling marriages of convenience and associated immigration abuses. The Minister said that the immigration authorities will be working in close cooperation with the General Register’s Office in 2015 as this legislation is commenced. The immigration authorities will also be working closely with NERA and the Department of Social Protection to target employers of illegal migrants.

International Protection and Asylum

· Legislative reform of the asylum system. The Minister confirmed that legislative reform of the protection system to remove the structural delays which are a feature of the existing system remains a key Government priority. This reform will simplify and streamline existing arrangements and provide applicants with a final decision on their protection application in a more straight forward and timely fashion and, as a consequence, reduce the length of time that applicants spend in the direct provision system. The Minister stated that she expected to obtain Government approval to publish the Protection Bill shortly.

· Protection Process Working Group. The working group to report to the Government on what improvements can be made to the protection process, including direct provision and supports to applicants was established in October 2014. Minister Fitzgerald said that she expects the Working Group will submit its report by Easter 2015.

· Asylum applications. 1,444 asylum applications were received in 2014 as compared to 946 in 2013 equating to a 53% increase. This reverses the trend of recent years when application numbers were decreasing year on year. The top three countries of application in 2014 are Pakistan, Nigeria and Albania.

· Measures to assist processing of Subsidiary Protection applications. Significant progress was made by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner during 2014 in clearing the backlog of subsidiary protection applications. The panel of legally qualified persons established to assist in the processing of applications was a key support in this regard. It is anticipated that most of the backlog will have been cleared by the end of the first quarter 2015.

· Direct Provision System. Provisional figures for end 2014 indicate that there were approximately 4,280 persons seeking international protection accommodated in direct provision centres in the State, some 110 fewer than at the end of 2013 and over 1,800 fewer than the number of persons accommodated at the end of 2010 which stood at just over 6,100.

· Syrian Humanitarian Admissions Programme. In December, 2014, Minister Fitzgerald announced that a total of 111 vulnerable people from Syria and the surrounding region had been granted admission to reside in Ireland following applications to her Department from relatives already resident here. In addition, the Government accepted 90 Syrian refugees in 2014 under the UNHCR resettlement programme.

Summary of key 2015 priorities

In summary, the targets set for the Immigration Service for 2015 include:

· civilisation of port of entry duties at Dublin airport on a 24 / 7 basis with Terminal 1 complete by the summer and Terminal 2 by the autumn;

· extend the use of e-gates at Dublin airport;

· progress the transfer of the immigration permission registration function from An Garda Síochána to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service;

· implementation of further reforms of the immigration process with streamlining of the registration and visa re-entry processes including the introduction of an on-line appointment system for re-entry visas by the end of the first quarter;

· worldwide rollout of the British Irish Visa Scheme including introduction of visa biometrics;

· implement a comprehensive reform programme in the area of international education ;

· following enactment of the Protection Bill, introduce the new single protection system; and

· following approval by Government, implement the recommendations of the Working Group on the protection process including the Direct Provision System.