Road to citizenship for non-Irish children ‘long, complex and expensive’, says report

Views of separated child should be ‘sought directly’ in relation to asylum decision

Report calls for children to be regularised as early as possible to “ensure eligibility for citizenship from an earlier age”. Photograph: iStock

Report calls for children to be regularised as early as possible to “ensure eligibility for citizenship from an earlier age”. Photograph: iStock

 

Children who come to Ireland seeking asylum, unaccompanied minors and stateless children born here face a “long, complex and expensive” road to citizenship, a new report states.

The Pathways to Irish Citizenship report, commissioned by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office, calls for children to be regularised as early as possible to “ensure eligibility for citizenship from an earlier age”.

For asylum seeking children this would reduce the time spent in the direct provision system and the impact of “social isolation and poverty”, author Dr Samantha Arnold writes.

“Ultimately children will have greater access to education, employment and family reunification.”

Without citizenship, individuals are excluded from applying for social security numbers and may be unable to access employment, third level education, housing, healthcare, pensions, open bank accounts or register a marriage or birth, notes the report.

Dr Arnold warns that many children, particularly separated children, risk long delays in accessing citizenship because they cannot apply for international protection independently or register with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) before they turn 16. Even after turning 16, many are unaware they need to register, she adds.

Children who are not eligible for Irish citizenship at birth cannot apply for naturalisation themselves and must rely on a parent or legal guardian to establish their identity through passports and birth certificates, which can be difficult to obtain, Dr Arnold says.

Procedures around citizenship for these stateless children remain “unclear” and cannot be relied upon with any degree of certainty as they are not established in law or policy, she adds.

The report criticises the INIS and Tusla teams working with separated children for appearing “contradictory and unclear” in their practices around citizenship and says decision making around residency and asylum applications for children requires “greater transparency and clarity”.

The views of a separated child should be “sought directly” and “given due weight” in relation to the asylum decision, writes Dr Arnold.

All unaccompanied children should be able to consult with a legal professional in order to inform their views on what immigration application should be made and when, she adds.

The report says children in direct provision should receive asylum decisions based on their “protection or humanitarian needs in their own right” and not based on evidence or testimony from their parents. Individual status should be introduced for children so their position is not derived from their parents’ status, it adds.

On the issue of undocumented children, the report calls for the Government to adopt a regularisation scheme for children and their families so they no longer fall outside the formal immigration system.

Legal aid should also be made available to children who require immigration advice not linked to international protection, in particular children in care who may not be aware that they require legal advice, says the report.