On the 29th of January 2021, the Minister for Justice Ms Helen McEntee announced that the visa office had taken the decision to temporarily cease accepting new visa/preclearance applications.  A lot of confusion has arisen since as to what this means in practice and who can or cannot submit an application for an Irish visa at present.

The Immigration Service Delivery updated their Frequently Asked Questions Document “ The Impact of COVID 19 on Immigration and International Protection” on the 9th of February 2021 which can be read here.

As previously advised the following category of visas fall into the Priority/Emergency category of visas which are being accepted for processing at present:

  • 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;
  • seafarers;
  • journalists, when performing their duties.

Should a person’s application fall under any of the above, they are directed to complete the online application form and follow the instructions as to where the application should be submitted.  Queries with respect to the submission of an application should be directed to an applicant’s nearest Irish Embassy or Consulate.

The visa application supporting documentation should then be submitted to the Irish Embassy, Consulate  or visa office indicated on the application summary form.  Documentation will not be accepted electronically and must be submitted in hard copy.

Applications for visa/preclearance appeals should be submitted as normal within the timeline specified on any visa refusal letter.  Decisions for successful appeals falling under the emergency priority category will only issue at this time and visas/preclearance for successful appeals for non-emergency priority cases will issue when restrictions have been lifted.  Sources in the visa office have indicated that such visas will be issued after the 5th of March 2021, however we await further confirmation in this regard from the visa office.

Applicants who have been issued with visas however are unable to travel during the validity period endorsed on the visa are directed to contact the Irish Embassy or Consulate who issued the visa, and each case will be looked at upon their own merits.

Applicants who are ordinarily resident in the State with an Irish Residence Permit which expired after the 20th of March and who have been outside of the State unable to return are directed to contact their local Embassy and to make an online visa application for an entry visa to return. It is not clear from the ISD website whether such applications will be processed at present in circumstances where they are not listed on the Priority/Emergency visa category. We submit that such applications should unquestionably be prioritised for persons who are ordinarily resident in the State.

In relation to individuals who have been granted employment permits by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and where the person requires  an entry visa in order to enter the State, the situation appears to be very uncertain and further clarity should be provided by the Immigration Service Delivery in this regard.  At present applicants who have been granted an employment permit and who are visa required nationals, are unable to fully submit their employment visa application,  unless their role of employment falls under the emergency category list. This is absolutely unsatisfactory in circumstances where the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment, another government body, has issued the employment permits however the permit holders are unable to submit their employment visa applications at present to enter the State. Notwithstanding this, employment permit holders who are citizens of non-visa required countries may enter the State and provided that they comply with mandatory quarantine and public health requirements, are not subject to any further restrictions.   We would submit that as a matter of urgency the visa office should be amend the emergency priority category list and allowing all holders of employment permits to apply for their employment visas to enter the State and commence their employment.

Nationals from a number of South American countries and South Africa are now visa required nationals and any such person planning to travel to Ireland who is not the holder of a valid Irish Residence Permit is required to apply for an entry visa.  Again, an application will only be accepted from persons whose category falls under the emergency priority criteria.

Most unsatisfactory is the current situation with respect to family members of Irish citizens, EU nationals,  family reunification applicants, IHAP applicants and other categories of family visa applications  are currently excluded from the Emergency/Priority visa applications list.  It is submitted that there is no logical justification for the exclusion of such applicants from submitting in full their visa applications at this time. The only reference on the Priority/Emergency category list with respect to family is the reference to persons travelling for “imperative family or business reasons”.  This provides absolutely no clarification as to what imperative family reasons are, and under what circumstances such applications will fall under the priority/emergency cases list.  We would submit that the Immigration Service Delivery should provide further clarification on this given the sheer distress which it is currently having on applicants.

At Sinnott Solicitors, our immigration teams located in our Dublin and Cork offices continue to accept instructions from applicants seeking to apply for visas to enter the State and we are currently working on many applications at present,  completing the online application forms and preparing the documentation and paperwork in order to have the visa packs ready for submission as soon as the visa office announce the full acceptance of applications again.  We would encourage all applicants to continue to prepare for their visa applications, arranging the paperwork and having everything ready to submit so that their applications will take their place in the queue when visa processing resumes.  As outlined above sources in the visa office have indicated that processing will recommence after the 5th of March however no formal notification has been given in this regard.

Sinnott Solicitors have a specialist team of Immigration Solicitors and Immigration Consultants located in our Dublin and Cork offices who are experts on 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 014062862 or info@sinnott.ie.