Ireland: New Limit On Absences For Citizenship

Last Updated: 4 September 2019
Article by Fragomen  

At a Glance

  • The High Court of Ireland has ruled that foreign nationals cannot be granted Irish citizenship by naturalization if they have left Ireland for even one day in the 12 months prior to their application.
  • The ruling could be overturned on appeal, but this might be a lengthy process. Further, there is no confirmation at this stage as to whether the parties will appeal the judgment.
  • Applicants with pending applications for Irish citizenship might have their applications refused if they have spent one day or more outside Ireland in the 12 months prior to their application. Pending applications might alternatively be put on hold if an appeal is submitted or if emergency legislation is considered. The government has not yet indicated how it intends to handle pending applications.
  • Applicants for Irish citizenship based on Irish ancestry (Foreign Birth Registration) are not affected by this ruling as they are not required to prove residence.

The situation

The High Court of Ireland has unexpectedly ruled that foreign nationals applying for naturalization cannot be granted Irish citizenship by naturalization if they have left Ireland for even one day in the previous 12 months before they apply.

A closer look

  • Citizenship rule. Foreign nationals applying for naturalization as Irish citizens must demonstrate that they have resided in Ireland for at least five of the past nine years, reduced to three out of the last five years if they are married to an Irish national. This must include one year of continuous residence in Ireland in the 12 months prior to the date of application.
  • Previous rule for residence outside Ireland. Previously, citizenship applicants could leave Ireland for up to six weeks in the year preceding the application, or longer in some exceptional circumstances.

Impact for foreign nationals

  • Citizenship by naturalization applicants. Foreign nationals applying for Irish citizenship will not be granted citizenship if they have spent even one day outside Ireland in the 12 months preceding the date of their application. Applicants who live near the border with Northern Ireland might find it impossible to meet the requirement.
  • Pending applications. Applicants with pending applications for Irish citizenship might have their applications refused if they have spent one day outside of Ireland in the 12 months prior to their application. Pending applications might alternatively be put on hold if an appeal is submitted or if emergency legislation is considered. The government has not yet indicated how it intends to handle pending applications.
  • Citizens. The impact on applicants who have already been granted Irish citizenship based on the previous six-week residence rule is unclear. Fragomen will continue to liaise with the authorities and stakeholders to gain clarity on this issue.
  • Unaffected applicants. Foreign nationals applying for Irish citizenship based on their parents' or grandparents' Irish nationality (Foreign Birth Registration) will not be impacted as they do not need to meet the residence requirement.

Background - Irish and regional trends

This is the first time the residence requirement has been interpreted so restrictively in Ireland and in the region. Most countries in the region impose absence limits for citizenship applicants, but none refuse citizenship based on one day of absence. Even the previous six-week absence limit was highly restrictive in the region. For example, the United Kingdom allows applicants for UK nationality to leave the United Kingdom for up to 90 days in the 12 months prior to their application in most cases.

Looking ahead

The decision could be overturned on appeal, but the appeal process may be lengthy. Alternatively, emergency legislative measures might be implemented. An urgent response is needed given the significant impact of this judgment.

A change to the law itself on an emergency basis is likely to be the best approach, which would bring Ireland in line with other countries in the region. However, it is unlikely this issue will be resolved before the end of the Dáil (Irish parliament)'s recess until September 17. Fragomen will continue to monitor and report on further developments.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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