Cash-for-visa scheme: Clearing backlog of Irish residency applications will take ‘years’

‘Golden visa’ scheme allowed wealthy people secure residency in return for investments of €1m in an Irish business or philanthropic donations

Work to clear a backlog of applications to a “golden” visa scheme for millionaire immigrants which was shut down in early 2023 will take “years” to clear, senior Department of Justice officials have said.

Oonagh McPhillips, secretary general of the department, said 700 applications to the contentious Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP) scheme had been received in the year it was closed, as well as 1,300 in 2022.

The cash-for-visa scheme allowed people with at least €2 million in wealth to secure residency in Ireland in return for investments of €1 million in an Irish business or philanthropic donations of €500,000, or €400,000 in certain cases.

The Government announced it was closing the scheme last February, on foot of concerns about a surge in applications from China, amid difficulties carrying out due diligence on applicants.


Speaking on Thursday, Ms McPhillips said 307 IIP applications had been approved in 2022 and there were 251 approvals in 2023.

The senior civil servant said the timescales for decisions being made in the applications on hand varied. “Some of them are in a state that can be decided and have been decided, and then others we are going to need a lot more information,” she said.

The independent committee who assessed the applications were looking at ways at “expediting what’s on hand”, she said. “It will be quite some time, I’d imagine years before we work our way through that,” Ms McPhillips said.

Department officials were taking questions from politicians at a hearing of the Oireachtas public accounts committee.

The number of people who arrived at Dublin Airport without papers, such as where a passport they used to board a flight may have been destroyed, had decreased from nearly 5,000 in 2022 to 3,285 last year, the meeting also heard.

Department officials said in about 800 cases a year people were found to be travelling on false documents. Ms McPhillips said “quite a substantial” number of this cohort then sought to claim asylum.

The department kept an “open mind” in cases where people had travelled on false documents, as they may have been fleeing persecution and unable to obtain an authentic passport, she said. “Often when they seek asylum they will tell us their real identity and produce other documents,” she said.

Ms McPhillips said upon arrival asylum seekers were fingerprinted and their details checked “to see if that person is wanted in another country”.

The number of asylum seekers found to be wanted in connection with crimes committed abroad was very small, she said. “There are checks against European databases in terms of their movement and if they are wanted in any European state that will come up,” she said.

Richard Dixon, the department’s chief international protection officer, said the rate of asylum seekers being granted permission to remain in the State last year was 38 per cent, which was lower than the European average. The majority of asylum seekers in the system had been waiting fewer than two years for a decision in their case, he told politicians.

In 800 cases where deportation orders were made last year, the department said about 80 had been enforced by gardaí, while others had voluntarily left the State. Ms McPhillips said in many of those cases people had been refused asylum status as they had stopped engaging with the process after left the country.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times