Abu Dhabi, where the Irish embassy noticed an exponential increase in applications for the family reunification scheme ALAMY
The immigration services and the gardai have opened an inquiry into the abuse of an EU directive that allows foreign nationals to sponsor their families to live in Ireland under a reunification scheme.
The immigration authorities are encountering scores of applications from non-EU nationals who have already obtained residency rights in Britain, but claim to have moved to Ireland and wish to sponsor visas for their spouses, children and parents to move here.
Investigations by the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) and the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) have established multiple sponsors used similar addresses to lodge applications — indicating that criminal gangs and white- collar criminals are involved.
The authorities suspect that the majority of the family reunification applications being received are being prepared by immigration advisers in the UK, who are providing their clients with supporting documentation.
Over the past three years, the Department of Justice has already refused to issue family reunification visas to almost 10,000 immigrants from central Asia, the Middle East and north Africa.
In the majority of cases, the applicants were suspected of attempting to bring their families to Ireland to obtain EU residency rights before moving them to Britain ahead of Brexit, taking advantage of current freedom of movement treaties.
The authorities first became aware of the loophole when the Irish embassy in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates noticed there was an “exponential increase” in applications to participate in family reunification schemes. Embassy officials received 2,700 applications from Afghan nationals alone.
An investigation by the authorities and immigration services subsequently established that the majority of those seeking to bring their families to Ireland were, in fact, UK nationals who had falsely claimed to have moved to Ireland and wished to sponsor their parents, spouses and children to live with them.
Gardai believe the sponsors chose to submit their applications to the Irish authorities as the UK system was more stringent.
The Department of Justice yesterday confirmed the INIS had become seriously concerned over many of the applications received under the family reunification scheme as they appeared to be using the EU’s common travel area as the starting point to circumvent national UK immigration rules for family reunification.
“Most of the sponsors in these cases were UK nationals who came here claiming to be exercising EU treaty rights. A series of measures were taken by INIS including defending cases in the courts, working with the GNIB to address abuses, and also working with UK colleagues who subsequently made changes to their laws. Approximately 97% of these applications have now been decided, and over 95% refused,” the department said.
“The central concern, as with all visa services worldwide, in deciding on any type of visa application is to strike an appropriate balance between protecting the country’s vital national interests by maintaining an effective immigration regime, while at the same time facilitating travel for those who meet the criteria. Each visa application is therefore decided on its own merits, taking all factors into account.”