When Conall Ó Maitiú and Aanya Sagheer told their families they were getting married, excited relatives pressed them to know when.

“Everyone’s like, so when is the date, when are we going to have a party? What is occurring?” said Sagheer last week, one hand on her hip and the other around the glass of blueberry kombucha in front of her at Kennedy’s café in Phibsboro.

That excitement quickly gave way to disappointment. It wouldn’t be any time soon, they realised.

While Ó Maitiú and Sagheer set about sorting the bureaucracy of marriage early, they haven’t been able to get a marriage appointment with the Health Service Executive (HSE) – or their names on a waiting list.

A spokesperson for the HSE’s Community Healthcare East, which serves Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow, said services have been impacted by a recent cyberattack. Staff are working overtime to cut waiting times, they said.

“Additional staff are in the process of being recruited to help address the impact on civil registration services resulting from the cyber attack,” they said.

Ó Maitiú, Sagheer and others question why registration appointments are under the ambit of the HSE at all, given its workload.

“I guess births and death sort of happen in hospital, but marriages? I don’t know, it just seems like it doesn’t belong there,” said Ó Maitiú.

A spokesperson for the HSE said who handles registration is a policy question up to the Department of Social Protection.

Said a spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection: “There are no plans under consideration at present to amend legislation in this regard.”

Getting a Licence

Couples need to let the government know they intend to marry at least three months in advance, says theCivil Registration Act 2004.

Sagheer and Ó Maitiú want to get married next spring, they say. Having heard about a backlog, they started the process this August.

It turned out, though, that wasn’t early enough. They got a call on 23 September, breaking the news.

“They said the appointment calendar is up and running,” said Ó Maitiú, pouring juice into his glass.

The HSE’sappointment system for civil registrations was recently back up online after being down for several months after the cyberattack in mid-May.

“But we can’t proceed because they need to do an immigration marriage-of-convenience interview,” said Ó Maitiú.

Ó Maitiú says they were so backed up they weren’t taking any names. “Like you can’t even put your name on the list to get an appointment.”

Although marriages between two Irish or EU citizens don’t involve interviews to assess if they are marriages of convenience, they can still take a while to register at the moment.

Marguerite De Burca says the process took nine months. She and her partner, who are both Irish citizens, applied in January 2021 and got married in September, she said. “Definitely not unique to international couples in terms of processing times.”

HSE’s Community Healthcare East and offices for several other areas did not respond to a query asking how many staff members currently work on marriage registration in its offices.

The HSE largely blames the backlog on the cyberattack, but it’s not possible to compare current and pre-attack waiting times, as its spokesperson says it doesn’t have access to any waiting-list times due to the hack.

Other Impacts

For marriages involving someone who is not an Irish citizen, the HSE takes care of interviewing couples to make sure getting a secure immigration status is not the marriage’s aim.

This is the “marriage-of-convenience” interview Sagheer and Ó Maitiú can’t get. Sagheer is a Canadian citizen.

“If a couple are only marrying for an immigration advantage the registrar cannot issue a marriage licence,”says the HSE’s website.

Sagheer and Ó Maitiú said they thought checking this was a task for the Department of Justice.

Sagheer says it’s unfair that they wouldn’t even let them book a registration appointment without doing immigration interviews first.

Couples should have the right to get married first and then be probed about the authenticity of their marriage, she said. The current system feels “anti-immigrant”, said Sagheer.

In 2019, the Department of Justice issued more than 140 deportation orders after investigating mixed-nationality marriages and deciding they were of convenience, says its immigration annual review.

It also revoked 701 Irish residency permits granted under EU Treaty Rights in the same year, the review says.

Marriage of convenience is also among the top reasons for refusal of citizenship applications, says a recentreport by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

Even for those marrying for non-immigration reasons, though, delays in getting a marriage licence can impact immigration statuses and make life more difficult.

Although they started the process early, Sagheer’s wedding might be delayed until 2023, she says, and by then, her graduate-scheme immigration permission won’t be valid.

Faced with the prospect of losing her job – because she would need a different work permit to continue to work – and her legal status next year, Sagheer says she has contemplated going to the United States, where her mother lives, just to get married.

Marrying Abroad

Tenaya Jorgensen and Tim White-Flynn faced a world of worries before and after they decided to marry in Ireland.

“Like, the amount of stress, the stupid fights that we had because I was just so stressed and, like, offloaded it onto Tim,” said Jorgensen, as her husband looked at her with a quiet smile.

Jorgensen, a PhD student, worried that her residence permit would run out as she struggled to complete her course.

She says that she couldn’t secure funding for her PhD or take a break from it to save up. Working to pay for her living expenses while she finishes her PhD wasn’t an option either as her immigration stamp only allowed part-time work.

“How’s she meant to survive here if her PhD is not funding her, but it’s also stopping her from working at the same time? It’s like, well, it doesn’t make any sense,” said White-Flynn.

They also wanted to buy a house together. But immigrants on student visas can’t take out a mortgage, while those on Stamp 4 – which she could get if she were married to White-Flynn – or permanent residency can because they can work full-time, said Jorgensen.

The couple tried to get an appointment from the registration office in Cork to get married in July, but the online booking system hadn’t been restored at that stage.

When they never heard back, they travelled to Denmark –a hot destination for registering international and queer marriages, with lenient rules– and married there.

By marrying abroad, couples also skip the marriage-of-convenience interview.

Jorgensen said that once they were married, immigration authorities didn’t ask her and her husband about their relationship before giving her permanent residency.

In Copenhagen, things were efficient, speedy and reasonable, say Jorgensen and White-Flynn.

“Just the lack of red tapes, you know, just our passport, my past visa, pictures of us, and that was it,” Jorgensen said.

“It took five days to process, six weeks to book, and now we’re married.”

White-Flynn said the documents that Danish authorities asked for wereeasy to get too. In contrast, the HSE asks for hard-to-get evidence like original copies of things with official seals that are not readily available when one partner is from abroad.

As a non-EU citizen, Jorgensen said she needed to show her original birth certificate withan “apostille stamp”.

“I looked into it, and I would have needed to send my birth cert to California secretary of state with a $25 like an American dollar check,” said Jorgensen.

Later, the Irish banks told her they wouldn’t send out checks in dollars when the amount was less than about $2,000, she said.

They stressed about it until they found out that “Denmark was the Vegas of Europe”, said Jorgensen, laughing.

As an American, Jorgensen could travel to Denmark visa-free. For visa-required citizens, though, travelling to Denmark isn’t a straightforward solution.

Shamim Malekmian covers the immigration beat for Dublin Inquirer. Reach her at shamim@dublininquirer.com

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