Asmae Ourkiya is going to miss a work trip this month.
To travel around Europe some immigrants from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) need a Schengen visa, and to apply for that, they need to have a residence permit valid for at least three months.
But Ourkiya’s residence permit ran out in May. They wanted to renew their Irish residence permit (IRP) in March.
But when Ourkiya emailed the Department of Justice’s Immigration Service Delivery (ISD) Unit to ask if they could apply for renewal sooner, they said no.
“They said, no, the maximum you can apply before expiry date is 30 days,” said Ourkiya. Trying to apply earlier meant the electronic application wouldn’t go through.
Last Friday, the Department of Justice changed its policy. People can now apply to renew resident permits up to 12 weeks before they expire, says its irishimmigration.ie website.
But it takes 12 weeks to process applications to renew residence permits also, says the Citizens Information website.
That means non-EEA migrants can still miss out on trips that could have helped them get to know colleagues and nudge careers along.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said there are currently about 10,000 renewal applications from Dubliner migrants being processed.
For travel, they said non-EEA migrants may need a Schengen visa if planning to visit another country in Europe that’s part of the Schengen area.
“They should contact the immigration authorities of that country to find out about the requirements for entry, such as a valid IRP or passport,” the spokesperson said.
Ourkiya, who has been waiting a little over four weeks for their new IPR card, is going to miss the work trip, they said. “I can’t go now.”
Those who miss business trips lose the chance to get to know colleagues and it stymies career opportunities too, said Ourkiya.
And missing them, and personal trips too, is going to happen every year, they say. (How frequently people have to renew immigration permissions depends on what kind they hold.)
“Your life is just on hold for a few months, and you can’t do anything, you can’t book a flight, you can’t leave Ireland,” said Ourkiya.
Sumit Sharma wanted to apply early to avoid missing a work trip too, he said on a Zoom call last Saturday.
But the policy change hadn’t kicked in yet, so he could only apply on 23 March, a month before his IRP card would run out of date.
Sharma is still waiting for his new residence permit.
“I could only apply a month in advance, and that was a challenge, and because of that, I couldn’t plan any travels, for work or personal; I’m kind of stuck here until I get my new IRP,” he said.
“Being an Indian national means if I need to travel to Europe, I need a Schengen visa, and for that, the IRP needs to be valid for three months at least,” Sharma said.
Sharma had contacted the ISD about two weeks ago. He says he’d read on a social media group for Indians in Dublin that if one puts the word “urgent” in the subject line of an email, they might get a sharpish response. So, he followed the advice.
“I kind of said that I have a work trip coming up in June so I would need my IRP to be processed, but I didn’t hear back. There was a ticket number that was generated automatically,” said Sharma, who says there had been no correspondence besides that.
Delays and Delays
Processing delays at another government department mean Hannan Tariq is also left with an expired IRP and uncertainty about when he can apply for a new one and face the other department’s delays, he said last week, sitting at a Starbucks on North Earl Street.
Tariq needs a “support letter” from the Department of Employment that allows him to move on to the more secure Stamp 4 from Stamp 1, an immigration permission that tethers migrant workers to one employer.
As a critical-skill worker, Tariq has earned the right to a Stamp 4 because he has finished two years of living on the Stamp 1.
“I applied for the support letter in April, and I haven’t received anything in response so far,” he said.
His wife, who joined him in Ireland on 18 March, Tariq says, could also only secure an appointment at the Burgh Quay office in June to register her legal status, he said, resting his hand on her knee.
Processing delays are nothing new, though. Last summer, Arjumand Younus hoped to apply and renew her application early, too, she says. “Because I was planning my trip to Pakistan in December.”
She’d read horror stories about processing delays on Facebook and Twitter and wanted to do her best to dodge the queue.
Younus says she accidentally got some one-on-one time with an immigration officer when she had to show up at the city’s immigration office to pay for a friend’s permit. She told the officer how she wanted to get a new IRP for travel, but the system wouldn’t let her apply early.
“He said, just put in a wrong [expiration] date and put a note in there mentioning that I’d put in a wrong date, and this is the correct date,” said Younus.
She said it made her feel uneasy and albeit gaming the system worked, it still didn’t help her get an IRP card quicker.
“It still took about 10 weeks, and I still had to visit the office in person to get it on time,” Younus said.
Showing up unexpected at the Burgh Quay immigration office is risky business, but when it works, it works, she said.
“Sometimes they let you in, sometimes they would threaten to call the guards on you, and that has happened to some of my friends, but we just take the risk. What can we do?” said Younus.
Ourkiya, Younus, Tariq and Sharma all say that the Department of Justice needs to hire more people to process applications quickly.
“Why don’t they just hire a few more people, build up a team where they can process things much quicker if there’s so much workload,” said Tariq, who said not having a valid IRP card weighs on him all the time.
He hasn’t brought it up to his employer yet, he said.
The Department of Justice website says migrants have the right to live here so long as they show evidence of an active renewal application, and employers should accept that.
But it doesn’t say what happens if they can’t apply because another department is taking too long issuing the required documents for renewal.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice didn’t respond to a query asking what happens to people like Tariq’s right to live and work here past 31 May, when the automatic extensions granted because of Covid run out.
Navigating the bureaucracy of the immigration system has been both expensive and exhausting, said Tariq, who has spent thousands in legal fees for his own and his wife’s visa applications.
“I never came here just for myself. I got a job offer, and a company sponsored me to come over here from Pakistan and work because they couldn’t find the same skill set easily here,” he said.
Sharma, the man who has been waiting for his IRP card since March, said he’d worked in the United Kingdom before moving to Ireland, where the immigration process never felt this difficult.
“I never faced any issue in the same way that I’m facing in Ireland,” said Sharma, who once got an IRP valid for only a year when it should’ve been good for two years due to an officer’s mistake.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice didn’t respond to a query asking if it has any plans to ease the backlog and tackle processing delays.