New migration and asylum measures introduced in response to COVID-19

22 Oct 2020

Recent developments 

Department of Justice and Equality FAQ Document

On 30th September, the Immigration Service Delivery updated its FAQ document on the ‘Impact of Covid-19 on Immigration and International Protection’ explaining the most recent updates to asylum and migration services in Ireland.

Immigration registration and permissions

The Department of Justice and Equality announced on 18th September that immigration permissions due to expire between 20th September and 20th January 2021 will be automatically extended. Any permission that was renewed by the permission extension notices of 20th March, 13th May, 16th July or 18th August which therefore has an expiry date between 20th September and 20th January is automatically renewed by this notice. The Department stated this extension is the fifth, and expected to be the final, extension of permission since the outbreak of the pandemic, and the longest granted.

Further to the Government announcement on 19th October regarding increased restrictions in response to Covid-19, the registration office at Burgh Quay will temporarily close for first time registration appointments with effect from Wednesday 21st October 2020 (on 24th August, the Dublin area registration office at Burgh Quay and all registration offices outside Dublin reopened after temporarily closing on 18th August in line with revised public health guidance).

The Registration Office in Burgh Quay had reopened on 20th July to facilitate registration for non-Irish nationals based in the Dublin region who had their first-time registrations cancelled when the office closed in March due to Covid-19 restrictions. On 17th July, the Department for Justice and Equality had also announced that registration Offices outside Dublin would open on a phased basis in line with the government road map.

On 7th July, the Department confirmed the expansion of the newly introduced online Registration Renewal System to include all Dublin-based non-nationals who are seeking to renew their registration in the state. All renewals in the Dublin area are now being processed online only and the system will be available for all applicants from 20th July 2020. Between 7th July and 20th July, the online system will be made available to those with an urgent need to travel and who require an Immigration Residence Permit (IRP) card before they travel.

A change to immigration permission of current “Stamp 3” holders who respond to and qualify under the HSE’s “Be on Call for Ireland” campaign will be considered.

On 21st May, Immigration Service Delivery announced that, as a temporary measure, anyone in the State awaiting their first registration, and who has a current, valid permission to remain, but does not have a current permission letter, can apply to the Registration Office to request a letter confirming their permission to remain in the State and the conditions attached.

Visas

On 10th July, as part of Covid-19 measures to restrict travel and protect public health, the Department of Justice and Equality announced a temporary suspension of the Irish Short Stay Visa Waiver Programme (SSVWP) which allowed people visiting the UK on short stay visas to travel to Ireland.

On 7th July, the Department of Justice and Equality announced that the normal processing of re-entry visa applications will recommence on 20th July. Special arrangements are in place to facilitate those with an urgent need for travel.

From Monday 22nd June, Immigration Service Delivery started a limited resumption of visa services.  In the initial resumption phase, ISD are only accepting Long Stay “D” visa applications, including Study, as well as those identified under ISD’s current criteria as Emergency/Priority visas.  Visa appeals can be submitted but due to current restrictions, capacity to process appeals is significantly reduced.

International protection applicants

Further to the Government announcement on 19th October regarding increased restrictions in response to Covid-19, with effect from Thursday 22 October 2020, the International Protection Office (IPO) will open on a limited basis to receive new protection applications only. From Thursday 22 October 2020, all substantive protection interviews are cancelled until further notice.

The International Protection Office (IPO) had resumed services for participants in the protection process in line with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, including the Government’s Roadmap for Resilience and Recovery released on 15th September 2020. Protection interviews had recommenced on 20th July 2020, starting with those whose interviews had to be postponed due to Covid-19.

Temporary Residence Certificate (TRC) Renewal Appointments and call-backs are suspended. Applicants whose TRCs are due for renewal can apply online and will be issued a new card by post.

Further to the Government announcement on 19th October regarding increased restrictions in response to COVID-19, the International Protection Appeals Tribunal is postponing all scheduled on site hearings with effect from Thursday 22nd October 2020.

Previously, on 31st July, the International Protection Appeals Tribunal announced that it will recommence oral hearings on 6th August 2020. An administrative note for participants of trial hearings has been prepared in light of Covid-19.

Contingency arrangements have been put in place for residents of the accommodation system for protection applicants. A dedicated team has been put in place in the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) unit of the Department of Justice and Equality, in collaboration with the HSE, to manage Covid-19 in accommodation centres. Actions include the provision of public health advice, including translations, to all accommodation centres and moving residents from emergency accommodation to dedicated accommodation centres.

On 23rd April, the Department of Justice and Equality and the HSE issued a joint statement on the measures to protect direct provision residents during the Covid-19 crisis. The statement explained that a range of measures have been put in place to address any cases of Covid-19 in direct provision centres if and when they arise. These measures include the provision of self-isolation facilities within centres as well as of a number of offsite self-isolation centres across the country. When a resident is suspected or confirmed to have the virus, where advised by Public Health, they will be moved to a dedicated off-site self-isolation facility. This is the established procedure across all centres. In early April, the Department of Justice and Equality announced that three new self-isolation facilities with 200 beds had been secured for Direct Provision as part of the emergency response to the pandemic.

On 6th October, the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response published its final report which highlights areas requiring ongoing oversight and accountability and includes sections on direct provision and meat plants. On 26th May, the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, which was established in May 2020 to consider and take evidence on the State’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, discussed direct provision centres with officials from the Department of Justice and Equality and from the HSE. The transcript of the meeting is available here and video of proceedings is available here.

On 5th June, the Department of Justice and Equality announced its intention to conduct an internal review, in collaboration with the HSE, of its action taken on direct provision in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, to inform action taken in any subsequent phases.

On 4th August, it was announced that, in relation to social protection supports during Covid-19, direct provision residents will be treated in the same way as any other citizen.  Subsequently, on 7th August, the Department for Social Protection confirmed people living in direct provision, if temporarily laid-off without pay due to Covid-19, may claim the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, which will be paid with effect from when they were temporarily laid-off. It was also confirmed that any worker including people living in direct provision, may receive Enhanced Illness Benefit from day 1 if they need to self-isolate due to Covid-19.

In a joint statement issued by the Department of Justice and Equality and the HSE on 11th September, it was announced that a comprehensive programme of Covid-19 testing was starting across all accommodation centres housing asylum seekers and refugees in the State. The joint statement announced that testing would roll out across centres from 12 September 2020, as an additional public health measure recommended by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) to safeguard residents and staff in Direct Provision Centres.

Employment permits

Employment permits will remain valid and will be extended if necessary, in line with the notices published in respect of immigration permissions expiring between 20th March 2020 and 20th September 2020. The renewal of permission is on the same basis as the existing permission and the same conditions apply. Temporary arrangements allowing for electronic copies (PDF) of permits to be issued by e-mail have been put in place. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation’s contingency plan outlines how the Employment Permit system will continue to operate in all scenarios.

International students

Non-EU “Stamp 2” holder students who lost their employment due to Covid-19 can apply to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection for the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

Since March 2020, as part of the Governments response to the COVID-19 pandemic, students who held Stamp 2 permissions and who attended colleges which had physically closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were allowed in those exceptional circumstances to work 40 hours a week. From 1st October, this short term, temporary measure ceased, and the standard criteria for students were reinstated: Students holding a valid immigration stamp 2 permission are permitted to work 20 hours per week, with the exception the months of June, July, August and September and from 15 December to 15 January inclusive, when they are permitted to work 40 hours per week.

Furthermore, Immigration Service Delivery has introduced temporary arrangements for all non-EEA nationals who currently hold Stamp 2 permission and who wish to avail of the Third Level Graduate Programme, including students who have returned to their home countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a temporary measure, applications for the Graduate Programme can be submitted electronically to the Registration Office. This temporary measure will be kept under review in light of the restrictions arising from the Covid-19 pandemic and may be amended or withdrawn, in whole or in part, when considered appropriate to do so, but regardless will cease to apply no later than 30th September 2020.

On 26th May, the Department of Justice announced further measures to assist international students studying English in Ireland who have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Students who left the State before completion of their studies due to Covid-19 may return and resume their studies and the duration of their absence will not count towards the 2 years maximum period of English language study allowed. Language students with a current, valid permission who are still in the State and who have completed the maximum 2 years permitted as a language student, but due to Covid-19 are unable to return home, may remain as students until the end of the year provided they re-enrol in an online course of study for the remainder of the year.

A new online Registration Renewal System for non-EEA national students based in Dublin was launched by the Minister for Justice and Equality on 22nd June 2020. On 7th July, the Department announced the expansion of the newly introduced online Registration Renewal System to include all Dublin-based non-nationals who are seeking to renew their registration in the state.

EU Treaty Rights

The EU Treaty Rights Division will continue to receive new residence card applications and is processing applications for residence cards and requests for review. As a temporary measure, until 31st October, the EU Treaty Rights Division will allow in-country residence card applications or requests for review to be submitted by email. Some emergency applications, including healthcare professionals, may be prioritised in the current situation.

Return

Voluntary return applications are currently not being processed. However, interest in voluntary returns will be recorded.

Undocumented migrants

The Department of Justice and Equality confirmed that it does not and will not seek any information from an immigration perspective from either the Department of Employment and Social Protection or the HSE for persons coming forward for social supports or medical attention. Any undocumented migrant should not hesitate about coming forward to access health care or social supports during the Covid-19 crisis.

Information sources

For more information, see:

Information regarding the Justice Sector Covid-19 plans

Information regarding Immigration Service Delivery and the FAQ

Information regarding International Accommodation Protection Centres

Information regarding the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation’s employment permit arrangements

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