Visa deal with UK to boost visitor numbers

Agreement applies to Chinese applicants from end of month, followed by India

In an unprecedented degree of co-operation between Ireland and Britain, the two governments will today sign an historic visa agreement that will allow international tourists to apply for one travel permit to visit both countries.

The agreement, which will be signed in the Irish Embassy in London by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and the British home secretary, Theresa May, will apply to Chinese visitors from the end of the month, and then those from India.

It will see “the automated and seamless sharing and cross-check” of immigration data between Dublin and London. The Irish side will collect biometric data to match that required by British authorities.

Expansion planned

In time it will be expanded to cover visitors from other countries who “will be able, for the first time, to visit both the UK and Ireland, including moving freely between north and south of the island of Ireland on a single visa”, says the Department of Justice.

To underpin the operation of British-Irish Visa Scheme, Ms Fitzgerald and Ms May will sign a new agreement for the sharing of immigration data between both countries’ immigration authorities.

Once the agreement is fully up and running, international visitors will be able to apply for an Irish-UK travel visa at any one of the UK’s 200 visa application centres around the world.

Security concerns

Concerns about illegal immigration and terrorism have led to increased co-operation in recent years between the Department of Justice’s Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) and the British home office to secure the Common Travel Area.

Three years ago the Government introduced the Short- stay Visa Waiver Programme, which allows short-term visitors from certain countries to visit Ireland if they have a UK visa allowing entry for 180 days.

The list includes non-EU eastern European countries such as Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus, Bosnia; Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and others from the Middle East; along with India, China, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. It was later expanded to cover Thailand, Oman and Qatar.

The programme agreed with British authorities was to run until October 2016.

The short-term visa has proven its worth, the Government said, pointing to an increase of 45,000 more visitors from these countries between 2010 and 2013 – a 70 per cent rise, which has led to “a step- change” in promoting Ireland as a tourist destination.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times