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. As of November 2021, there were 22,721 applications for citizenship on hand and the average processing time for applications was 23 months. There were approximately 11,000 grants of citizenship throughout 2021. An exact breakdown of the number of individuals with refugee and subsidiary protection status who became naturalised was not available at the time of writing.
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.
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. This system has continued in operation as of January 2022.
Significant changes were introduced for applicants regarding the number of proofs required to establish identity and residency for the purposes of making a naturalisation application. From January 2022, the Department employed a scorecard approach in the assessment of identification and residence history. Applicants are now required to reach a score of 150 points in each of the years of proof of residency required according to their particular circumstances. This can be done by submitting proofs with a predetermined point value until the applicant reaches the required score of 150 for each year of residency claimed. Applicants must also accumulate a total of 150 points for establishing identity in order to meet the appropriate standard. The introduction of the scorecard approach was broadly welcomed in providing further clarification for applicants on the required documentation when submitting their applications for citizenship.
Additionally, from January 2022, new applicants for citizenship are not required to submit their original passport with their initial application. Instead, applicants can now provide a full colour copy of each page of their passport and all previous passports containing stamps which contribute towards the period of reckonable residency claimed. The colour copy must be certified by a solicitor, commissioner for oaths or notary public and submitted along with the application form.
On 3 December 2021, the Minister for Justice announced the establishment of a scheme to regularise long-term undocumented migrants. The scheme opened for applications on the 31 January 2021. Applications will be accepted for six months until 31 July 2022. The scheme will be enable applicants and their eligible dependants to remain and reside in Ireland and to regularise their residence status whereby the applicant has a period of 4 years residence in the State without an immigration permission, or 3 years for applicants with minor children, immediately prior to the date on which the scheme opens for applications.
Those with an existing Deportation Order can apply whereby they meet the minimum undocumented residence requirement.
Applicants must meet standards regarding good character and criminal record/behaviour and not pose a threat to the State. Having convictions for minor offences will not, of itself, result in disqualification.
International protection applicants who have an outstanding application for international protection and have been in the asylum process for a minimum of 2 years will have a separate application process. Applications for those in the International Protection strand opened on 7 February 2022.
The establishment of the regularisation scheme has been hugely welcomed by NGOs, stakeholders, and perhaps most significantly, the undocumented community in Ireland, many of whom have resolutely campaigned for over a decade to achieve the realisation of such a scheme. However, NGOs have noted a number of gaps in the scheme. For instance, in circumstances where a person has spent time in the protection process and subsequently received a negative decision, the time spent in the protection process does not count towards time spent ‘undocumented’ for the purposes of the mainstream regularisation scheme. Similarly, persons who were previously undocumented and are now in the protection process cumulatively may have been in Ireland for more than two years but do not qualify for either the undocumented strand or the international protection strand of the scheme.
 Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, Response to Parliamentary Question no 485, 30 November 2021.