Visa requests from Yemen, Eritrea and Iraq most likely to fail

Nasc says Irish system is ‘completely unsuited to the lived experience of refugees’

Yemen Red Crescent workers look for remains of Saudi-led airstrikes victims in a funeral hall in the war-torn capital, Sana’a. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA

Yemen Red Crescent workers look for remains of Saudi-led airstrikes victims in a funeral hall in the war-torn capital, Sana’a. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA


Applications for a visa to enter Ireland originating from Yemen, Eritrea and Iraq are the most likely to be refused, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show.

Whereas requests for Irish visas from residents of Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are virtually assured of success, less than half of applications from war-torn peninsular neighbour Yemen were approved between 2011 and 2016.

A similar trend is evident for Eritrea, where human rights violations spanning more than two decades have forced hundreds of thousands to flee the country. Of the 289 visa requests made from the east African state over the past six years, 127 (44 per cent) were unsuccessful.

Huge numbers of applications for work, study, holiday and various other types of Irish visas which came from Nigeria and Pakistan were also rejected between January 2011 and September 2016.

More than 11,000 applications from Nigerian residents were rejected over that period, along with 7,331 applications from people living in Pakistan.

Roughly a third of Irish visa applications of all kinds from those two countries were unsuccessful, well above the average rejection rate of around 9 per cent for all visa applications over the past six years.

The data was obtained by The Irish Times under Freedom of Information legislation.

Detailed figures

The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, which operates under the auspices of the Department of Justice, has responsibility for processing visa applications to the State.

While the department seeks to emphasise that each individual case is assessed on its own merits, the detailed figures released give an insight into the likelihood of success for visa applications from different countries.

The statistics also appear to reflect broader geopolitical events, with the number of visa applications of all types from Iraq more than doubling since 2011 during a period of severe instability in the country caused by the ongoing Islamic State insurgency.

Some 350 Irish visa applications were made from Iraq in 2011, of which 81 per cent were granted, but the grant rate fell to 58 per cent last year when 793 applications came from the same country.

The overall grant rate for applications from Iraq was 63 per cent between 2011 and 2016, again well below the international average of over 90 per cent.

The visa applications are not equivalent to applications for asylum or for recognised refugee status, and Ireland has separately committed to bringing in about 4,000 refugees who have been displaced by the Syrian conflict.

There has also been a rise in visa applications from China and India over recent years, but both of these countries have sustained above-average grant rates of between 93-98 per cent over the course of 2015 and in 2016 so far.

Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre, began its “Safe Passage” campaign on World Refugee Day in 2016 in response to the high numbers of visa applications being refused by Ireland from refugee-producing countries.

Its chief executive, Fiona Finn, told The Irish Times it was no coincidence that applications from more settled and affluent countries had a greater chance of success.

“It is a cause of considerable concern to us here in Nasc to see the high refusal rate for applications from countries such as Syria, Yemen and Eritrea – all of which are high refugee-producing countries,” she said.

“As these figures show, the visa system is completely unsuited to the lived experience of refugees,” she said, calling for the establishment of a “humanitarian admission scheme” so family members of refugees admitted to Ireland could also gain entry.

Responding to questions about the wide variation in grant rates between different countries, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said Ireland’s approval of visa applications was high by international standards, and said conclusions should not be drawn by comparing how citizens from different countries fared.

Citizens from more than 100 countries must apply for Irish visas

Ireland has a number of work and travel agreements with states outside the European Union but, in the case of more than 100 countries, their citizens must formally apply for a visa to enter Ireland.

Visa applications can be denied for a range of reasons including insufficient documentation being provided, insufficient proof of financial self-dependency, the existence of a criminal record or affiliation to a terrorist organisation.

Immigration officers

Most visa applications typically relate to tourist or business visits to the State, and a relatively small amount concern attempts to work or study in Ireland for an extended period of time.

In the case of a number of non-EEA (European Economic Area) countries – including Australia, Brazil and the USA – a visa is not required but instead citizens must apply to immigration officers for permission to study and/or work in Ireland on an individual basis once they have arrived in the State.