Editor’s note: After this article was first published, the Department of Justice announced plans to reopen the Burgh Quay offices on 10 May.
Gerald Obakhume faced detailed questioning after he touched down in Dublin in late December last year, he says.
“Like, what’s my reason for coming to Dublin because it’s Covid. Why don’t you stay back home?” says Obakhume.
An airport officer asked to see his “school papers” proving he had enrolled, as he had said, in a master’s course at Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin).
“At some point, he said, he was going to tell me to go back to my country,” says Obakhume.
“I was like, I already paid my fees. If you can refund my fees then I go back,” says Obakhume. “At that point, Nigeria had lower cases than Ireland.”
He was let in. But five months later, Obakhume still doesn’t have an Irish Residence Permit (IRP), a card that he needs so he can get a part-time job to pay the rent and day-to-day expenses.
That’s because non-EEA newcomers who live within Dublin and are registering for the first time, like Obakhume, have to do that in person with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) at its offices on Burgh Quay in the city centre.
But, since 23 December, these offices have been closed.
Obakhume says the Department of Justice should find another way to register people so they’re not in limbo. His airport questioning felt like an immigration interview, he says, so why couldn’t an immigration officer register him then and there?
They could do that and then post out a card, he says. “Instead of everybody having to go to the central office.”
Other affected newcomers say it’s time that services at Burgh Quay were considered essential.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said they understand that migrants have faced Covid-prompted difficulties and have extended all immigration permissions “on seven occasions, until 20 September 2021” to help.
But that doesn’t help people like Obakhume who needs to register and get his IRP card in the first place.
The Burgh Quay office in Dublin remains closed “as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions”, said the Department of Justice spokesperson. “This is a necessary measure in order to ensure the health and safety of both customers and staff.”
The spokesperson didn’t say if the department had decided on a date for re-opening the INIS office.
When the governmentunveiled its latest reopening plan last week, it didn’t announce any date for resuming in-person immigration registration for those living in Dublin.
Not a Real Substitute
It’s impossible for the Department of Justice to track how many would-be residents are currently awaiting registration in Dublin, says a spokesperson. “Statistics are not maintained in this manner.”
Among them, though, are people like Nour El Assaad.
Her husband works on a critical skills employment permit in the city, she says. El Assaad was hoping to get a 1G stamp, which allows spouses of skilled workers to also work here.
But since she arrived in February, El Assaad spends her days going for strolls or shopping at the supermarket, waiting for the Burgh Quay office to reopen, she says.
Most employers require a valid IRP to hire someone, and immigration-permission extension announcements from the Department of Justice can’t replace the physical card, she says.
El Assaad has gotten a job offer with an indefinite start date, she says. “I am super grateful that an employer did consider me,” she says. But uncertainty weighs her down, because the offer is conditional on her getting her IRP.
“I don’t know when I’m going to be able to start work. We don’t know when the offices open, and at any time the opportunity might be jeopardised,” says El Assaad.
Over several months, the Immigrant Council of Ireland has gotten hundreds of calls about the INIS office closure on its helplines, says Colin Lenihan, their information coordinator.
The continued closure is impacting people’s “ability to obtain employment and also impacts their ability to leave Ireland in an emergency”, says Lenihan.
Says El Assaad: “If I want to see my family, if I want to go and then come back, I can’t leave unless I take another entry visa to Dublin, which now, they’re not issuing.”
The Immigrant Council has had to intervene in cases where migrant healthcare workers, recently arrived in Dublin to work for the HSE, had to go on work trips outside of Ireland without IRPs, says Lenihan.
“They were facing the possible risk of being stranded outside of the state if they travelled or face losing their employment if they couldn’t travel,” he says.
A Dublin Problem
El Assaad’s husband encouraged her to startan online petition asking the government to reopen the immigration office, she says. “Because it basically is our only option to get the voices of the people heard.”
Believing in Ireland as a democratic country where the public has the power to prompt change using “bottom-up petitions”, El Assaad hopes her online campaign will make a difference, she says.
In the petition, she highlights that in-person registration is ongoing outside Dublin. “It is targeting people in a specific city,” it says.
Lenihan knows of numerous cases where people moved their family outside of Dublin, he says, “for the sole reason of being able to register their status in another local immigration office”.
That way, they could make sure they could get their immigration permissions and therefore jobs, Lenihan says.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that registrations outside of Dublin are done differently, as they’re processed by the Garda National Immigration Bureau through the Garda stations.
Why can’t they pick some garda stations in Dublin for registering would-be residents? says Obakhume.
Four or five, where people could book an appointment and do an interview, he says. “It’s strange because if they can do it outside of Dublin, then they can do it anyway.”
Amr Rizk, who travelled here on an employment visa in January and also lacks a residence permit, says he is confused about why the registration services offered by INIS are not considered essential.
“I don’t understand why it wouldn’t be essential when you compare it to like retail or food or beverage,” says Rizk.
Lenihan, the information co-ordinator with the Immigrant Council, says the government should recognise the service as essential.
“The Immigrant Council of Ireland have consistently recommended that the Burgh Quay Registration Office to be reopened and to be treated as an essential service,” he said.
By reopening the INIS office, the government can also generate extra income through easing the access of newcomers to the labour market, says El Assaad.
“It’s a source of revenue for the government. They can make money out of income tax,” she says.
For Rizk, it’s a matter of having one’s existence recognised.
“One of the basic needs are existing, feeling that you’re existing, you know, like knowing that you’re somebody who’s legally here,” he says.
UPDATED: This article was updated on 6 May 2021 at 16:36 to reflect the Department of Justices newly announced plan to reopen the offices on 10 May 2021.