In April 2021, Tahir Saqib almost missed a vital letter from the Department of Justice.
He and his family had moved a month earlier from Whitehall to Swords, he says. He had updated his address with all who needed to know including the Department of Justice.
“I knew it was important because if I miss anything it’s going to have further effect on my status in the country,” said Saqib last Friday, outside the Love Supreme café in Stoneybatter.
But the letter, which said he had permission to stay in Ireland, was still sent to his old Whitehall house.
“Luckily, people I was sharing the house with sent me a picture and said, ‘Is this important?’” said Saqib.
Saqib says he has no idea why the letter still landed at his old address.
If Saqib’s old housemates hadn’t picked it up, it could have been months or longer before he realised something had been sent out. There’s no text alert or email to tell people that correspondence is on the way.
Mary Henderson, a solicitor at the Immigrant Council of Ireland, says there’s an urgent need for the Department of Justice to modernise its methods. “Including supplementing correspondence by post with email.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said they rely on post because of “security reasons and in some instances to comply with statutory provisions”.
It sends approved or denied immigration permission letters and important messages related to citizenship applications via registered post, the spokesperson said.
No plans to change the correspondence system are in the works, they said. But “the provision of all immigration services are kept under constant review”.
For people renewing immigration permissions outside Dublin – who have to go to their local Garda station – delays in the delivery of immigration letters can cost them months of wasted legal status.
Edgar Gomez has fought to stay in Ireland for about six years, he says.
At first, his permission to stay was off the back of a relationship with a citizen of the European Union.
But they split up after three years, he says, and he hired one solicitor and then a second to try to win an independent permission because leaving meant giving up on a life and career he had worked hard to build.
He has lived from one temporary Stamp 4 permission to the next, with undocumented stretches between appeals and decisions.
When it comes time to renew his Stamp 4 permissions, he usually gets a letter in the post from the Department of Justice.
The department sends another copy of the same letter to a Garda station in Galway, where Garda National Immigration Bureau processes immigration renewals in the county.
“Many times I have waited maybe an hour to be assisted, and then the officer would say they don’t have a copy of it,” said Gomez, last week on a Zoom call.
Gomez has to go away and check back later, he says. Sometimes, the letter delay – and the wait for an open appointment – clips a month or more off his six-month temporary status.
“It shrinks the permission given to you by the minister. You have to pay the full €300 for six months. But you actually have four or four and a half months left by the time you get your permission,” said Gomez.
He always wondered why the Justice Department wouldn’t just email the letter to the Garda station, he says.
But his relationship with immigration officers at the station in Galway is fraught, he says, and too intimidating to inquire freely.
Officers can be terse and blunt, says Gomez, and he suspects it’s because he’s renewed so many temporary permissions.
He tried to ask once. “I asked how come I received it four days ago, but the Garda division still doesn’t have it?” said Gomez.
The officer gave him a blank stare, he says. “They just look at me but they don’t give an answer. So it’s very awkward and very uncomfortable.”
Failure to Communicate
Wendy Lyon, a solicitor and partner at the law firm Abbey Law, says she’s had a few cases where important letters like proposals to cancel someone’s immigration permission were sent to old addresses.
“Even when the new address had been notified and the person only found out after a year or more,” says Lyon.
Henderson, the solicitor at the Immigrant Council of Ireland, says the issue especially caused headaches in 2020 when some migrants’ passports were sent to the wrong address.
(The Department of Justice recently scrapped the need for aspiring citizens and those renewing immigration permissions in Dublin to post original passports.)
Henderson says that the department needs to update how it communicates. It’s too hard right now via email, she says.
“We have experienced issues ourselves sending emails to the Department and not receiving replies,” she said.
Its digital presence has improved, she says, but there is room for improvement.
Saqib, who almost missed his permission letter last year, says maybe the Justice Department should send a copy of crucial letters by email.
And let people know when it has sent the hard copy by post, he says. “A notification should be sent to your phone saying that an important letter was sent to you, so you can chase it.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said: “Applicants who are concerned that they may not have received a letter are advised to contact the Department.”