Visa-Free Travel for People with Refugee Status Further Suspended
The Government has decided to extend the suspension on the operation of the Council of Europe Agreement to allow visa-free travel for people with refugee status, to be reviewed in 12 months.
The suspension, which in effect means that people with refugee status require a visa to travel to Ireland rather than travelling visa-free with their Convention Travel Document, was originally introduced in July 2022.
The decision to introduce visa requirements for those with refugee status was taken in light of evidence of people applying for asylum in Ireland who had already received refugee status in another European country. The Government agreed last year to review the suspension in 12 months.
The visa-waiver arrangements for people fleeing the war in Ukraine remains unaffected.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, said, “this decision has been taken by Government in the context of unprecedented pressures on our international protection system and the temporary protection being offered to those fleeing the war in Ukraine.”
“It is not a decision taken lightly but it is the right one for Ireland at this time to ensure the integrity of our immigration system, to avoid any undue pressure on systems that are already under strain and to make sure that those who need protection in Ireland can get it and get it quickly.”
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said, “this is a carefully considered decision that we believe is necessary to protect the integrity of Ireland’s immigration system in the context of continued pressures on our international protection and accommodation systems. The visa waiver I introduced for people fleeing to Ireland from Ukraine remains unaffected. Ireland’s commitment to protecting and assisting those in need remains steadfast. We are committed to upholding our international and EU obligations towards international protection applicants and refugees.”
Ireland continues to see high levels of applications for international protection when compared to pre-pandemic levels. Before the visa suspension was introduced in July 2022, there was a 191% increase in applications by the end of June 2022 compared to the same period in 2019.
Notwithstanding the increase in applications, the International Protection Office has made significant progress in increasing the numbers of decisions made and significantly reducing processing times.
Minister McEntee also recently updated Cabinet on the modernisation programme and also on the accelerated procedure for applicants from safe countries of origin.
Last November, new accelerated procedures for those who arrive in Ireland from safe countries seeking International Protection were introduced.
The changes have ensured that a first instance decision is made within three months in such cases, a significant reduction from a norm of 17 to 24 months last year. The numbers arriving from these countries has significantly decreased.
Since last November, the numbers arriving from these countries have decreased from 210 applications in November to 64 in May this year – a drop of almost 70 per cent.
It should be emphasised that the continued imposition of a visa requirement will not prevent travel to Ireland by 1951 Convention document holders. Genuine travel plans will be facilitated through standard visa arrangements.
Since the introduction of the suspension, there have been 803 Convention Travel Document visa applications, of which 697 were granted and 105 refused.