Citizenship: 23-month backlog

THE recession may prompt some people to leave for pastures new, but record numbers of non-nationals are still seeking citizenship here.

Figures from the Department of Justice show that a new high of 10,885 people applied for naturalisation in Ireland last year. In the same year, a total of 3,117 people were granted citizenship and told that they can remain here for good.

Another 2,795 applications were either refused or deemed ineligible on grounds of fraud or for not meeting the strict government requirements.

The volume of applications – which includes 2,179 new cases in the first few months of this year – has led to a massive backlog and a 23-month waiting period for decisions.

The rise in applications has been significant, growing from just 739 in 1999 to its record level last year.

Even last year's figure represented a major rise on 2007, showing a year-on-year increase of more than 25%.

The Department of Justice said that the waiting period for a final decision would always be relatively lengthy because of the necessity for "checks and balances".

In many cases, the department carries out in-depth investigations into applications, particularly with regard to weddings, some of which have turned out to be bogus.

The largest number of citizenship applications came from Nigerians, 4,500 of whom have applied for naturalisation in the past five years.The second biggest grouping came from the Philippines, and 2,265 Filipinos – many of them employed as healthcare professionals – have sought naturalisation here.

Other countries with large numbers applying for Irish citizenship since 2003 include Pakistan (2,055), South Africa (1,631), India (1,663), Bang­ladesh (1,127) and China (1,027).

The applications are not restricted to developing countries however, and hundreds of Australians (325), Canadians (160), New Zealanders (173) and Americans (656) have also applied.

European Union nationals – who are entitled to work and stay in Ireland for as long as they wish – are also applying for citizenship.

According to department figures, 40 French people, 15 Spaniards, 73 Germans and 562 individuals from the UK are seeking to become naturalised Irish.

The Department of Justice said: "The vast majority of applications for certificates of naturalisation from applicants residing in Ireland, because residency is a statutory requirement."