More than 100 foreign nationals gathered outside the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (Inis) office on Burgh Quay in Dublin in the early hours of Thursday morning to queue for work and study visas.
Last week’s summer sunshine was a distant memory for the scores of people wrapped up in heavy coats, scarves and woollen hats who sipped coffees and stamped their feet to keep warm as they waited for the office to open its doors and issue tickets at 8am.
The queue, which often stretches all the way around the block, has become a regular sight for people passing the immigration office.
With an influx of students arriving in Ireland to begin their studies in September, many people chose to camp overnight outside the office, which also houses the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), to ensure they received one of the limited number of visa application tickets.
Iryna Chukin and her husband Vyacheslav from Ukraine had to arrange a nanny to look after their two children when they left home at 5am on Thursday.
“We have small kids so we had to find a nanny and the money to pay her. We couldn’t take them with us, you can imagine how difficult it is,” says Iryna who is wearing a coat with a fur-lined hood to keep warm. “I don’t know how people do this in the winter. It’s cold enough today and it’s August.”
Bruna Fernanges and Jessica Rodrigues from Brazil wrapped up in ear muffs and woollen gloves to join the top of the queue at 3.30am.
“This is my third year doing this. I’m renewing my student visa, I have to do it every year. We’re here four hours already and I’m so cold.”
Ms Fernanges says waking up in the middle of the night felt “terrible” and describes it as “the worst part of my exchange here”. She says she likes living in Dublin because it feels safer than Brazil but would like to see an electronic appointment system up and running.
Beside Ms Fernanges, a sign hangs in the window with the words ‘Coming Soon’ printed in block capitals advertising the introduction of a new online booking system for appointments at the Inis office.
‘No more queues. No more tickets. Clear appointment times’ writes the poster.
The Inis website posted last month that the new system was expected to launch in “late August and will offer appointments for early September”.
“At that point, the existing early morning ticketing system at the Burgh Quay office will end and all appointments will have to be made via the website. It will no longer be possible to make an appointment by queuing at the office,” says the post on the website.
The announcement follows the introduction in November 2015 of an online system for re-entry visa appointments. Numbers seeking to register for visas in the State tend to double between September and November, according to the Department of Justice. Approximately 100,000 applicants attend the Burgh Quay office every year, making it one of the busiest offices in the State.
A statement from the Department of Justice said the new online registration system would “eliminate the need for queuing as appointments will offered in one hour time slots”. The Department advised that anyone wishing to renew their registration must do so within two weeks of the expiry date on their GNIB card.
Kim Childs from South Africa, who is queuing for the third year in a row, says it's about time the office introduced an online appointment system.
“We live in 2016 so surely there should be a way you can apply online. This queue is only the half of it because when you get inside you have to wait longer. You could easily be waiting four to five hours in there.”
Her husband Richard, who Irish and has joined her for the early morning wait, says they both had to take the day off work to renew the visa. “It’s typical old school Irish not getting with the times and not putting a system in place,” says Richard. “ It’s so simple. We’re all freezing our asses off queuing for this visa.”
Further down the queue Bhalai Ramanathan and her three-year-old son are patiently waiting for the appointment tickets to be distributed. Bhalai only arrived in Ireland from India last week to begin a new job. She says work colleagues recommended she begin queuing at 5.30am. Her sister Gayattri, who arrived in Ireland six months ago, travelled with her from Blanchardstown on Thursday morning for company.
Bhalai’s young son is wrapped up in a blue parka jacket and chats animatedly to his aunt. “He likes to travel by car so I just told him we are going to go by taxi and he was all fresh so it was not a problem,” says Bhalai. “But he is going to miss his breakfast. He’s ok for now but after two hours, he might turn cranky.”