The day Arsalan Shahid got his Irish citizenship, he also got word that his in-laws’ visit visa application had been turned down.
“I was like, I don’t know if I want to be happy for you, I’m just pissed at this country right now,” said his wife, Namra Javed, on a Zoom call recently, clutching their 16-month-old baby.
Her parents’ visit visa applications has been rejected twice, says Javed, a junior doctor.
They don’t want to move here, she says. They have their social circles and support in Pakistan. But their applications were refused over the possibility that they would overstay their visas.
“They have a family – my siblings, and their own siblings are there. I don’t know what else can tie them back to home,” said Javed.
Javed’s in-laws, on the other hand, do want to move here to be closer to their son and young grandson. But that is proving tough to realise too.
When Shahid looked up the conditions for bringing elderly parents over, he realised he couldn’t afford that. Not anytime soon anyway.
The Department of Justice’s policy document dating from 2016 says that allowing elderly dependents over is risky for the government because they might need medical help or nursing home space, so the salary threshold is higher than for bringing spouses.
People who want to reunite with their dependent elderly parents need to have made €60,000 a year after tax if they’re bringing one parent or €75,000 after tax if they’re bringing two, for three years before applying for family reunification, says the document. And provide accommodation too.
But Shahid says there must be some space to relax the rules to make being near their parents more affordable for lower-income immigrants.
Maybe the Department of Justice would consider accepting a cheaper health insurance plan or lower the threshold a little – or at least have a more generous visit-visa scheme and extend their duration, says Shahid, who’s also a junior doctor.
“There must be a middle ground,” he says.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said while it’s not planning to change any specific facets of the family reunification process, its 2016 policy document is currently under review.
Aditya Honakuppe loves his career and life in Dublin, he says. But he’s to move back to India to look after his parents eventually, Honakuppe said.
“The country is fabulous, fantastic, but I’m 100 percent sure that I will be heading back to India after a few years,” he said.
The duration of visit visas, which is three months, is too short, he said. So once he gets married and has kids of his own, his parents can’t be around much for support.
The non-EEA family reunification policy says it’s completely understandable that an Irish citizen or a non-EEA migrant wants to live with their elderly parents to care for them or to have a fulfilled family life.
But that could be expensive for the government, it says.
Shahid, the junior doctor, says the process isn’t straightforward, even beyond the financial conditions.
He has to prove eligibility first and apply later, he says.”If they give you a green signal that you’re eligible to apply, then you can apply.”
But once someone gets the go-ahead and ticks all of the boxes, the approval rate can be high.
Between 2021 to 7 June 2023, almost 2,600 people applied to bring their elderly dependent relatives to Ireland, according to official figures.
The Department of Justice has approved a little over 1,750 of applications in that time window, refusing 260.
Elderly relatives who come here through the reunification process, go on Stamp 0, meaning they can only live here, but aren’t entitled to public health support and can’t work here either.
The policy document says it’s up to the sponsor to prove that the elderly relatives really need them. Otherwise, “the default position for such migration, given the financial risk to the State is a refusal”.
It mentions that each case should be reviewed based on its own characteristics, but also says that applicants have to prove that there’s no alternative to bringing their parents to Ireland.
It says that, in most cases, there is. “For example, where the parent has the financial resources to meet their needs and is physically capable of independent living,” it says.
It doesn’t mention societal pressures, legal duties or even a culture of deep respect for older people in some countries as influential factors at play.
Honakuppe says that’s a huge factor in India.
Adult kids continue to live with their parents, he said. “Unless we really need to stay somewhere else,” says Honakuppe.
Leaving parents alone is frowned upon and rare, he says. “I have heard maybe only of three or four cases,” he says.
Children have a legal obligation to support their elderly parents. Parents can even file lawsuits in Indian courts against their kids, if they don’t.
In rarer cases, some immigrants can’t help their parents financially from afar because their country of birth faces stringent financial sanctions triggered by fears that their regimes might sponsor extremist activities abroad.
That means the Society for Worldwide Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) – a global financial messaging service – has disconnected those countries’ banks from its systems.
In 2018, for example, SWIFT cut access to Iranian banks, making it impossible to make direct European bank transfers to the country, which impacted ordinary Iranian immigrants too.
Shahid, the junior doctor, says he is not going to make €75,000 after tax every year anytime soon. “That’s pretty high.”
“I can only talk from the healthcare worker point of view, and probably only the consultants can be able to afford the high cap,” said Shahid.
But he says the government could at least accept cheaper health insurance that covers hospitalisations in public hospitals.
VHI’s Plan D ensures access to private hospitals and pays for a private room in public hospitals. An adult’s cover costs about €2,400 a year.
Javed, Shahid’s wife, says the government could perhaps make granting visit visas to parents easier and extend their duration so that parents could stay with their kids and grandkids longer.
Her husband agrees, saying he misses his dad a lot. “I just want him to be able to spend at least six or seven months with me and then go back to Pakistan,” said Shahid.
Honakuppe, the non-EEA migrant born in India, says that ideally, visit visas for elderly parents should last a year, although he says he doesn’t like complaining about the rules.
“So they could stay here for a year and then go back,” said Honakuppe.
Javed said it’s not like getting a visit visa is cheap either, and they have to provide evidence of financial means for that too.
The application fee for a single-entry visit visa, meaning it can be used only once, is €60. Applying for a multiple-entry visit visa, which can be used again later for another three months, costs €100.
The application fee isn’t refundable even if someone withdraws, says the Irish Immigration website.
There are other extra costs, too. Like paying for medical or travel insurance and certification and translation of any official document that’s not in English.
Javed says the issue impacts many of their colleagues in the hospital, and they end up talking about visa problems during breaks all the time, especially on the day of the week when decisions are out.
“So, there’s this whole debate in the hospital, ‘Did you get it?’ ‘No, it’s still pending,” she said, her baby napping in her arms.
They have done everything by the book, she says, but it feels like somehow they’re still found lacking.
“I pay taxes, my husband pays taxes, we’re law-abiding citizens,” says Javed.
“What else do you need from us?” she said.
[UPDATE: This article was updated at 14.42 on 14 June to make it clear that the threshold is €60,000 or €75,000 after tax, rather than before tax.]