Ashfaq Afridi was compressed in hazmat gear and sweat-drenched from the early months of the pandemic.

Dehydration took its toll, says Afridi, a doctor in the city. “I had stage 3 kidney failure because of sweating.”

He and his colleagues at the hospital weren’t prepared for any of it, said Afridi recently, standing under a gazebo in a green space in a housing estate in Glasnevin. “But we improvised.”

He says he had hoped the government would show the same spirit during the pandemic when processing the backlog of citizenship applications that grew during that time. “I believe they could also improvise.”

Afridi applied for citizenship in August 2021. He sent the asked-for documents and whatever else he thought they might need down the line, he says.

He is still waiting for a decision, he said on 19 June.

But in early June, the wait started to weigh on him, he says, when he realised that some other applicants had been sent decisions within just a few months.

On 8 June, the Department of Justice’s citizenship unit sent an email to applicants like Afridi to say that it was testing a new four-stage processing system to replace its old paper-based process.

This meant some applications would be processed out of chronological order, the email said.

“This will not disadvantage older applications but is important to ensure our new process works,” it says.

Those like Afridi who have waited and waited for their decisions say they felt angry when they read posts on a big Facebook group called Irish Naturalisation Process from people who had applied this year and already been invited to their citizenship ceremonies.

The department should have thought of a way to trial the new process using older applications, they say.

The email from the citizenship unit does say that it’s expecting to invite would-be citizens who applied in 2022 and before to this year’s naturalisation ceremonies.

Afridi says he doesn’t believe that old applicants haven’t been disadvantaged. “If one person is dealing with the new applications, that time is being consumed.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice didn’t say how many people who applied in 2023 had already had a decision.

But they said that a key feature of the new process is that applications are registered within weeks of receipt instead of months.

“As such the benefit of this approach will only [be] felt by new applications rather than older ones, which have been registered but at the old timelines,” the spokesperson said.

They said the department is sorry about the longer wait and the stress it has caused.

“Citizenship Division’s current policy remains to process applications within sequence wherever possible,” they said.

“There are however significant changes underway as the Division examines how it can become more efficient,” they said. Ultimately, they said, that will speed up all applications.

Waiting longer

At the moment, an application takes about 19 months to process, according to the email sent out on 8 June.

In 2021 and 2022, the Department of Justice’s citizenship unit received 29,155 applications, said a spokesperson. It has processed nearly 6,000 of those, they said.

On 18 May, the Fine Gael TD Simon Harris – who was standing in for the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee at the time – told the Dáil that the citizenship division had rolled out a new registration system in early 2023.

This was to speed up how long it takes for the department to register and acknowledge an application, he said.

“In 2022 it took an average of seven months for this part of the process to be completed. Under the new system it has been reduced to a matter of weeks,” he said.

A spokesperson also noted the other changes that the department is making. Garda vetting is carried out earlier in the process, and it has sent links to 13,000 applicants so they can start their e-vetting.

In the Dáil, Harris also said that applications are still going to be processed chronologically.

“I can assure you that all naturalisation applications will be processed based upon the date that they are received and not based on when they are registered,” Harris said.

But that’s not true, and those waiting longer say they feel sore about that and are still baffled at why similar applications move at different speeds.

“I’m shocked,” said Papy Kasongo, sitting on a sofa under a big family photo in the living room of their rental in Balbriggan.

He too had read posts on Facebook from people who have applied this year and already been given the nod.

Kasongo, his wife Nadine and their two children fled the Republic of Congo and sought asylum in Ireland in 2015. They applied for citizenship in June 2021.

Last year, Kasongo and Nadine both got letters asking for their passports. But they didn’t have them.

They sent affidavits explaining.

“I never applied for a passport when I was in my country because I didn’t think of going abroad until my persecution started and it was no longer safe for me to apply for a passport,” says Kasongo’s sworn affidavit.

They had landed in South Africa first, where someone who called himself “Smith” helped them get South African passports and travelled with them to Ireland, but he didn’t let them hold or keep those passports, the affidavit says.

“When we landed to Ireland, he disappeared with the passports and we never saw him again,” it says.

Kasongo got the Garda vetting invitation email on 17 May. His wife, who has applied at the same time, is still waiting for one.

Kasongo says he’s baffled as to why both applications aren’t progressing at the same pace.

“I don’t know, we applied on the same day,” said Kasongo, as his wife Nadine, who was wearing a t-shirt that had a tricolour emblazoned on, nodded.

He said the government should be more transparent about the process.

Growing suspicions

Kasongo desperately wants to have an Irish passport because last year, a vacation to Belgium on their refugee travel documents really upset his kids, he says.

They have four kids now.

In Brussels, border control officers pulled them aside, checked their travel documents and questioned them for an hour, while people who had Irish or European passports strolled through, he says.

“The kids were like, traumatised. And I don’t want that to happen again,” said Kasongo, as his small daughter napped on the couch to his right.

On a small shelf beside their big television are little trophies his boys have won playing football.

Kasongo says it bothers him that other kids at school talk about their European vacations. He’d booked the Belgium trip so his kids could talk about theirs too.

Not having Irish passports ruined it, he says.

He and his wife work hard in Ireland, said Kasongo, trying to earn Irish citizenship.

“I’m working, I’m paying my taxes, my wife now works in healthcare, but I don’t know,” said Kasongo.

He says maybe the citizenship unit could have trialled the new system using older applications.

“They say they have a process like digitalisation; when you have other applications, you can put that into digital,” said Kasongo.

Wendy Lyon, partner and solicitor at Abbey Law, says she doesn’t know enough about the new process to comment on how it should’ve been tested.

But “it seems at the very least they could have put more resources into clearing the backlog first”, Lyon said. Her clients are angry too, she said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said it’s “committed to reducing the backlog of applications that built up due to operating constraints during the pandemic.”

Both Kasongo and Afridi, the doctor in Glasnevin, said that when they read about people skipping to the front of the queue, it reinforced existing fears that they were being discriminated against in the process, and that’s why theirs is taking longer.

Other would-be citizens have said in the past that lack of transparency about how applications are assessed can add to anxieties.

Afridi says as a doctor, he gets vetted all the time. So he doesn’t believe checking his background could be that complicated, he says.

“Even when I was in Temple Street [hospital], kids, right? I was vetted every six months,” he said, walking under the drizzling rain.

He wonders if he has to wait longer because he has a Pakistani passport, he said.

Kasongo says he worries that it’s because he and his wife are refugees.

“They called people who had applied in 2023, 2022. I’m feeling we are discriminated maybe because we’re refugees,” said Kasongo. “They don’t care about us.”

Shamim Malekmian covers the immigration beat for Dublin Inquirer. Reach her at

Join the Conversation


  1. It all depends on a perspective….for instance, I am waiting for decision since November 2020, did my Garda e- vetting in the first half of 2021 and since then I haven’t heard a single voice nor read a single letter in regards of my application. With that been said, people who applied in 2021 or after are kind of lucky compared to myself 😁

  2. Thanks for writing this article! It feels totally unfair what happened in 2023. So many people are frustrated and affected by this in a negative way. My family too.

  3. Yes thats true people who applied in 2023 got citizenship and people who applied in 2021, 2022 still waiting for garda vetting. Even according to minister first in first out.

    1. The Minister is talking through his hat! Why won’t the Department reveal what percentage of 2023 applicants have been approved compared to 2021 and 2022 applicants! What are they hiding?!!

  4. Yea people who applied between 2020-2022 already got delayed so much in between covid and court decisions to change the process, the timeline went up from 6 months to 2 years in the best cases. Instead of going all in to process the backlog, those who were already suffering the most with the longer waits continue to be neglected, and the so called “new process” seems like just a way to get the processing times down quicker at the expense of those who applied earlier and already suffered enough. So much for minister of “justice”

    1. Exactly! They are definitely “massaging the numbers”! People need to write to their TD’s, the Minister, alert the media, and dare I say even start legal proceedings!

  5. This is an utter outrage! They refuse to show what percentage of 2023 applications have been approved, compared to the percentage of 2021 and 2022 applications! Because they are processing the 2023 applicants quicker to most easily bring down the median processing time. Meanwhile 2021 and 2022 applicants wallow in limbo! The Minister needs to be held accountable! First world taxes for Third World service!

  6. The system CLEARLY workd! Virtually everyone from 2023 is being approved! Some even went to the Cotizenship Ceremony in June! The 13,000 emails te e-vetting is a joke. It is not the same as getting Garda vetting – that is the step after and barely anyone from 2021 and 2022 who got the email has received Garda vetting! And why would they do Garda vetting for 2023 applicants if the median processing time for citizenship applications is 19 months (hasn’t changed at all for the last three months, despite ISD getting massive funding increases! Unless of course the intention all along is to process 2023 applications super fast to get the median down. Whilst 2021 and 2022 applicants suffer!! Why don’t you do FOI to see what percentage of 2023 applicants have been approved?

  7. I and plenty of other people who are stuck in the 2021/2022 debacle are not refugees, and have super straightforward applications. It is the Department’s incompetence and opaqueness that is the problem! Utterly outrageous!

  8. The actual assessment of the application is still all manual and paper based. This hasn’t changed at all! So why are all these 2023 applications being processed at lightning speed, whilst the 2021 and 2022 applicants are left in limbo to suffer? Scandalous!

  9. Look at the 2023 timelines on www and see the lightning speed with which 2023 applicants are being approved! Scandalous!

  10. The Garda vetting is not done earlier – unless you are a 2023 applicant. The emails sent out in a batch of 13,000 were not Garda vetting, rather an e-vetting invitation! The Garda vetting requires the Garda NVB to process and contact the applicant. Once again, just more distraction and window-dressing from ISD. Meanwhile median processing times have been stuck at an outrageous 19 months for the last three years! Zero improvement!

  11. They only run three Citizenship ceremonies per year max! Max 4,000 per ceremony! 12,000 per annum! No way those 23,000 still waiting from 2021 and 2022 have a chance! Barely 50%. Utter disgrace! They just passed a law allowing people to make a statutory declaration for things including citizenship/fidelity to the nation. If Harris/McEntee were serious and actually cared, they’d start doing this!

  12. Just wondering what the hundreds of “workers” in the Department were doing when they couldn’t come into the office? Funny how doctors, nurses and all other healthcare workers could come into work and literally risk their lives, whilst these people “working” at the Department did what exactly? I mean apart from taking a big fat tax-payer funded pay packet home! Sickening! Excuses, excuses, excuses!

  13. Shamim, you’re the only journalist in Ireland paying attention to this and you’re doing a brilliant job, thank god. Your work has already brought about change so hopefully with this article there will be more. Keep up the brilliant work.

  14. I think those backlogs supposed to be cleared before processing of those 2023 applicants, who are have been granted citizenship under four months, when old applicants from 2020 to 2022 are being stressed and frustrated. I applied early 2022 still waiting after vetting disclosure view. Many applicants are been waiting for months or year after vetting without decision

  15. You should do a Freedom Of Information request to see what percentage of 2023 applicants have had Garda Vetting or been approved! What a scandal!

  16. I has also applied in 2019 I had from them few times. Did garda vetting about 2years ago. The system in Ireland is very slow lived 5years of life in direct provision when the system stated that we couldn’t work or go to school. So ridiculous

  17. I couldn’t agree more with Paddy’s statement. This is unfortunate, as I and a thousand others have been awaiting a decision on our applications, while the new process benefits applicants from 2023. Lack of communication and empathy is the worst. Same old repetitive responses in the Oireachtas, barely addressing the TDs’ questions. I am aware that we have all been creating noise, but hopefully someone will hear this noise and take appropriate action. I applied early last year, but applicants who applied later have been advanced for unknown reasons. The department has not sent another email updating the status of the process and estimating how long it will take to clear the backlog. Priority should have been given to clearing the backlog, and the new system should have been tested with the old applicants rather than the new ones. I’m at a loss for words to express my frustration!!!

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