Suspension of visa applications and South America/South Africa passport holders now required to apply for visa
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic a number of important announcements have been made in the past week regarding visa applications with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee signing a statutory instrument on the 27th of January 2021 imposing visa requirements and restrictions on passport holders from a number of South American countries and South Africa.
Restrictions on South American and South African Passport Holders
As of midnight 27th January 2021, passport holders from the following countries must now apply for an entry visa or transit visa in order to enter the State. The countries affected are listed as follows:
- Colombia (transit visa now required – this country is already subject to entry visa requirements)
- Ecuador (transit visa now required – this country is already subject to entry visa requirements)
- Peru (transit visa now required – this country is already subject to entry visa requirements)
- South Africa
- Suriname (transit visa now required – this country is already subject to entry visa requirements)
Previously passport holders from the above countries were exempt from applying for a pre-entry visa and could, therefore, travel to the State and seek permission to enter at the border. Any passport holder from the above countries who travels to the State without an entry visa endorsed on their passport prior to travel, will be refused entry.
Passport holders from the above countries with valid Irish Residence Permits are not affected by this change as long as they have a valid Irish Residence Permit (IRP card).
Notwithstanding this, entry to the State is only permitted at present under exceptional circumstances and persons travelling for non-essential reasons may be fined.
Suspension of New Visa/Pre-Clearance Applications
The Immigration Service Delivery also announced that as at close of business on the 29th of January 2021, they have temporarily ceased to accept new visa applications or pre-clearance applications save in the following exceptional Emergency/Priority categories:
- Workers or self-employed persons exercising critical occupations including healthcare workers, frontier and posted workers as well as seasonal workers as referred to in the Guidelines concerning the exercise of the free movement of workers during the COVID-19 outbreak;
- transport workers or transport service providers, including drivers of freight vehicles carrying goods for use in the territory as well as those merely transiting;
- patients travelling for imperative medical reasons;
- pupils, students and trainees who travel abroad on a daily basis and Third-country nationals travelling for the purpose of 3rd level study;
- persons travelling for imperative family or business reasons;
- diplomats, staff of international organisations and people invited by international organisations whose physical presence is required for the well-functioning of these organisations, military personnel and police officers, and humanitarian aid workers and civil protection personnel in the exercise of their functions;
- passengers in transit;
- journalists, when performing their duties.
This has been announced as a temporary situation only however no indication has been given as to how long the restrictions may last. Applications made online will remain valid, but a decision will not issue on any application until such time as restrictions have been lifted.
Sinnott Solicitors’ analysis
We submit that the suspension of new visa/pre-clearance applications is completely unacceptable at present. There is nothing to prevent the Visa Office/Immigration Service Delivery accepting these applications and processing same. We submit that applications could be processed, with an indication issuing from the visa office where an application is being approved and suggest that the visa office could then delay in issuing the physical visa until public health considerations allow. This would therefore avoid a huge backlog of applications to be processed when restrictions are eased.
We further submit that if a properly enforced mandatory quarantine system was put in place like in many other countries, this would allow the State to facilitate travel safely. This would allow persons who are genuinely intending to travel to the State for reasons such as employment, study, join family, to continue to do so, whilst always following full public health and safety guidelines, which is of course of the upmost importance.
Moreover, we submit that it is wholly unacceptable at this point to amend so significantly the Priority/Emergency category list to exclude family members of Irish citizens, family members of EU nationals exercising EU Free Movement Rights under Council Directive 2004/38/EC and other similar situations. We submit that ceasing the processing of visa applications is not the appropriate course of action in this situation.
With offices in Dublin and Cork, Sinnott Solicitors have a specialist team of Immigration Solicitors and Immigration Consultants who are experts on EU treaty rights and all Irish immigration matters. Should you have any queries with respect to any of the information contained in this article or any other immigration matters, do not hesitate to contact our immigration department in Cork or Dublin today on +353 1 406 2862 or email@example.com.