Immigration permit backlog cutting people off from State supports

Immigration permit backlog cutting people off from State supports

The GNIB immigration queue outside Anglesea Street Garda Station last October. Now, people are given an appointment via email, with some waiting weeks to be seen.

NGOs who work with refugees and immigrants have called for a clearer and cross-departmental approach to solving the immigration permits backlog, which has seen people waiting weeks to receive an appointment to renew their permission to stay in the State.

While the Department of Justice has granted extensions until January 2021, other government departments are asking people to have an up-to-date Immigration Residence Permit (IRP) or Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) card to avail of services.

Currently, it is taking weeks for people to get an appointment with the GNIB. People in Dublin who need to renew their IRP card or visa are also waiting weeks to hear back, after applying online and posting relevant documentation.

NGOs say this is leading to situations whereby students are being denied Susi grants, immigrants have been told they will lose their jobs, people can't apply for a driver's license and others have been told their social welfare payments will be cut, due to not having an up-to-date GNIB or IRP card.

Fiona Finn, CEO of Nasc, says they believe the situation has been "poorly managed" by the Department of Justice.

She says Nasc remains very worried about the lack of communication between different government departments. 

Fiona Finn, CEO of Nasc, said there was a "lack of communication" between government departments.
Fiona Finn, CEO of Nasc, said there was a "lack of communication" between government departments.

"There appears to be either a lack of knowledge or understanding regarding the current situation amongst officials in offices such as the National Driver Licence Service, Susi and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

"Although the first extension to immigration permissions was issued in March, state offices are putting non-EEA nationals under significant pressure to produce up-to-date Immigration Residence Permits (IRP) cards.

"Our team at Nasc has repeatedly had to intervene on behalf of clients to ensure that they are not wrongly refused access to services. 

One of our team has had to write on three separate occasions to Susi on behalf of the same client to explain the extension. This has caused huge unnecessary stress and anxiety for people.

Rachael Bermingham, legal officer with Doras in Limerick, has said as the backlog in registrations continues to grow, Doras are meeting with individuals on a daily basis who are receiving communications from the Department of Social Protection regarding welfare payments.

"They are being advised that payments will cease if they cannot produce an up-to-date IRP card. 

"This is putting undue stress and anxiety on people who are in already difficult situations due to Covid-19. 

"We have seen payments cut and migrants and their families are being put at severe risk of homelessness and poverty."

Individuals are extremely stressed and frustrated by the "many uncertainties" arising from their inability to register and to be issued with a residence permit, according to Catherine Cosgrave, Managing Solicitor at the Immigrant Council of Ireland.

Ms Cogsrave says the permit is required to work, access social protection, and to convince airlines that a person is permitted to enter Ireland on arrival.

"Family members of EU citizens especially have legal entitlements that the State is now in breach of, which could give rise to legal proceedings.

"There is an urgent need for the INIS to allocate resources, to clear the backlog across the country and to be able to deal with urgent cases in the meantime. 

"It is not satisfactory that currently solutions are only there for individuals who have access through personal contacts to resolve issues."

A spokesperson for the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland said that hundreds of individuals have been "left in limbo, unable to renew their immigration permissions or waiting for weeks for the return of important documents."

"As a result, many workers, some in already low paid and precarious work, are at risk of being laid off and left unable to support their families."

In response, the Department of Justice said: "The Immigration Service maintains regular contact with other Government Departments and services in light of the evolving policy responses to Covid-19.

"In line with recent announcements on the renewal process for Irish Residence Permits (IRP) during this period, applicants can still apply for Government services in the absence of an Irish Residence Permit (IRP) and a new formal decision letter about their immigration permission."

The department said people should present evidence of their last permission to remain in the State, in the form of their previous formal decision letter or an IRP, or both, to the relevant government department.

"They should also present a copy of, or make reference to, the notice from the Department announcing a further temporary extension of immigration permissions until 20 January 2021."

The department added that since July, Dublin has a new online visa renewal system to help with the backlog.

"The department has received over 22,000 applications from people who would otherwise have had to attend the Registration Office in person.

"The volume of applications, together with the reduced capacity of the Registration Office due to social distancing requirements, has resulted in longer than anticipated processing times."

The Department said they recognised the difficulties that delays may cause for applicants, and it is providing additional resources to the Registration Office to increase its capacity.

The Department directed those living outside of Dublin to contact their local GNIB office.

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