Visa rules for non-EEA partners

Ireland changes visa rules for de facto partners

The Irish government has launched a new ‘pre-clearance process’ which they say will make it easier for Irish emigrants to return home with their non-EEA de facto partners.

The changes, which impact directly on Irish emigrants returning to Ireland from Australia, has been welcomed by migration advocates but some concerns remain about timing issues and possible processing delays.

The new pre-clearance system introduces for the first time the possibility to apply for a visa to enter Ireland as a non-EEA partner from a non-visa required country (such as Australia) in advance of travelling to Ireland.

Until now, these partners would have applied for immigration permission on arrival in Ireland and would wait for up to six months for a decision before they would be allowed to work.

This had been widely deemed by Irish citizens as a deterrent from returning to Ireland with their non-EEA partners from countries like Australia, Canada and the USA.

Comment: Emigrants should be the main focus of diaspora policy

This change has been lobbied for by many stakeholders, including Crosscare Migrant Project in Ireland, who provide information and advocacy to many Irish migrants inquiring about the de facto rules.

Under the new rules de facto partners from both visa and non-visa required countries must apply for a de facto visa in advance of travelling and have received a pre-clearance permission letter if they wish to stay for longer than 90 days and work in Ireland.

The new system does not seem to offer any option to arrive and then apply.

Crosscare policy officer Danielle McLaughlin said: “In general we think this will be fine, but for emergency returns (such as coming home to care for a loved one, or if someone is deported) it could cause problems. We hope that discretion will be applied in emergency cases, for either very quick processing or to allow people enter Ireland with their Irish partner and then apply.”

The new system has no impact on the system for spouses or civil partners. They can continue to travel to Ireland and get permission on arrival subject to normal Irish visa rules.

All applications will be processed by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) in Dublin.

Embassies will only continue to play a role in accepting visa applications, but these too are processed in Dublin or in an INIS visa office.

Irish Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan believes the new rules will encourage more emigrants to return to Ireland.

Irish Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan believes the new rules will encourage more emigrants to return to Ireland.

Crosscare’s Project Officer Richard King, writing in The Irish Times, welcomed the new scheme but cautioned that inefficient processing times could cause frustration for applicants.

“The success of the pre-clearance system will in a large part come down to the efficiency of the processing,” he wrote. “A long delay or uncertain processing times could have a huge impact on those returning. For example, couples with children need the assurance of being able to get a response in time to put everything else in motion and get back before the school year starts.”

Ireland’s Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he hoped the new system “will encourage more people to come home”.

“In recent times, many of our young and our most highly educated citizens have emigrated,”he said.

“They may have wanted to further their careers, make more money, or simply to experience the wider world. While away, some have met life partners and perhaps even started their own families. We want to show these people that Ireland is ready to welcome them home and that we will provide a clear immigration and labour market pathway for their de facto partners.

“By allowing people to obtain preclearance before they arrive we can speed up the process and provide certainty about being able to access the labour market on arrival, once registered with INIS. In the past this could have taken up to a year, which is a long time when you are trying to build a new life in a new country”.

Full details and further information on the revised arrangements, including the criteria for obtaining preclearance, are set-out in the INIS website www.inis.gov.ie