Section 16(1)(g) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 gives the Minister the power to dispense with certain conditions of naturalisation in certain cases, including if an applicant has refugee status or is stateless. It should be noted that the issuing of a certification of naturalisation is at the discretion of the Minister for Justice and Equality in Ireland. There are different criteria in place for non-EEA nationals and refugees.
People with refugee status can apply for naturalisation after three years’ residence in the State from the date they arrived in the country not from the date when they were granted refugee status. For other non-EEA nationals, the residence required is five years. To apply for citizenship a form entitled ‘Form 8’ must be completed by the person concerned and submitted to ISD. This amended form was introduced in September 2016 and now applicants must submit their original passports with their application for naturalisation. It must include accompanying evidence of the applicant’s residence in Ireland and a copy of the declaration of refugee status.
There are no fees for refugees, stateless persons or programme refugees to apply for naturalisation except for the 175 € application fee. Once the application is granted the certification of naturalisation is free for refugees. For other adults the cost for issuing a certificate of naturalisation is 950 €. The Minister for Justice and Equality holds citizenship ceremonies and according to latest figures 10,158 people – including 3,136 children – were granted Irish citizenship in 2018. Of these, 51 people previously held refugee status. Whilst exact figures for Irish citizenship grants are not available for 2019, at the end of August 2019, 30 people with refugee status became naturalised. Further statistics were not released by INIS in 2020.
According to research published by the European Migration Network in August 2020, Ireland has more favourable conditions for acquiring citizenship by naturalisation than many other EU Member States. However, long processing delays and lack of clarity regarding eligibility conditions have been raised as issues of significant concern by NGOs and in parliamentary debate.
Moreover, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated restrictions has resulted in significant disruption to the delivery of services by the Citizenship Division of the Immigration Service Delivery. As of December 2020, the processing time for standard naturalisation applications was approximately 12 months. On 18 January 2021, it was announced that the obligation to attend citizenship ceremonies would be temporarily replaced during COVID-19, with an alternative requirement for citizenship applicants to sign an affidavit declaring loyalty to the State. Upon the return of a fully completed declaration, the Department of Justice will issue a certificate of naturalisation. It is anticipated that this system will remain in place until at least the end of May 2021.