When Bill Liao, who arrived in Ireland from Australia around 10 years ago, heard of Wednesday's High Court ruling on citizenship applications, his first concern was whether it would be retroactive.
His immigration lawyer, Ivan Williams, reassured him that his citizenship wouldn't be revoked. However, shortly after Liao received citizenship in April at the last ceremony in Killarney, his wife and kids applied for theirs.
On Wednesday, the High Court ruled that an applicant must have “unbroken” residence in Ireland for a year dating up to their application date. Traditionally, the Minister for Justice has allowed applicants six weeks grace out of the country, but Justice Max Barrett said this is not permitted by law.
Liao and his family are based in West Cork. His children, aged 20, 22, 24, have been out of the country within the year leading up to the day they applied for citizenship, and so risk their application being refused.
“There are thousands of good, talented and hard working people this is affecting,” said Liao.
Liao's daughter Willow (20) wants to see the Olympics in Japan next year and then visit her grandparents in Australia. "If nothing is done, then that trip will be impossible".
Liao is a general partner at SOSV, a venture capital company, as well as a co-founder of CoderDojo, which provides free programming workshops for young people.
“We’ve built a life in Ireland,” said Liao. He believes emergency legislation is needed to prevent this from happening to other people. “This is going to be stressing out a lot of people. People will be cancelling business trips, holidays. They’re stuck in Ireland, they’re locked in.”
He noted that in a post-Brexit world, "you couldn't visit Belfast for a day without jeopardizing your chances at citizenship."
“There are thousands of immigrants investing in and contributing to a vibrant Irish life. All those people who want to become Irish are going to be refused.”
“Its enormously unsettling to be an immigrant,” said Liao. “Imagine not being able to go back to see your parents at Christmas.”
His lawyer, Williams, said it should not be based on a literal interpretation of the legislation and that its “important to look at what the intention behind the legislation was.”
He said the problem with the “antiquated” 1956 Act is that “the people writing the legislation didn’t realise what the world would look like in 2019.”
“People weren’t banging down our door to get into Ireland in 1956. In fact, it was quite the opposite, people were emigrating,” said Williams.
However, he said the ruling could “bring this to a head” in a positive way. He said the six week period for which applicants have typically been allowed to be absent from the country has no statutory basis and Barrett’s decision will force an official time period to be put in place.
Williams said the quickest option would be the introduction of emergency legislation. "I can't see any opposition to this in the Dáil. The Act is past its sell-by date." He said a leapfrog approach of taking it the Supreme Court could mean the case wouldn't be heard until next year.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said they are "carefully studying the ruling in consultation with the Attorney General's Office".
“This issue is being dealt with as an urgent priority and I will take any necessary action to resolve it,” he said.
Mr Justice Barrett made the findings in the case of Australian Roderick Jones who was challenging the Minister's refusal of his application. Jones had been absent from the country for 100 days in the year leading up to his application.