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Irish High Court drastically tightens rules to acquire citizenship by naturalisation

Except for a few cases, all countries in the world have a provision in their citizenship law outlining the conditions for acquiring citizenship by naturalisation. While comparative research has shown that these conditions can differ substantially from country to country, normally a residence period of a few years is required, often including one year of “continuous residence” in the 12 months up to the date of application. This requirement of continuous residence is particularly widespread in countries influenced by British citizenship law, for example the former British colonies in the Caribbean.

A recent court case in Ireland has decided that the “continuous residence” requirement should be interpreted in the strictest way possible under Irish law, meaning that applicants are not allowed to leave the country for a single day during this 12-month period. Although the Australian applicant in the case at hand had admittedly been absent for a lengthy period of time (100 out of 365 days according to the court, 97 on holidays and 3 for work reasons), Irish citizenship law experts have already called the ruling absurd, pointing out that “in practice, the Department of Justice and Equality had been allowing citizenship applicants to be out of the country for up to six weeks [during those 12 months]”. The experts add that the case not only has immediate implications, expecting that “the decision will likely bring the entire Citizenship Division to a grinding halt until [the issue is] resolved on appeal”, but “could even raise questions about past grants of Irish citizenship, since the six-week rule has, in the High Court’s view, been unlawful all along”.

Although the case fits a global pattern of stricter rules for certain groups, see for example the recent cases where children have been denied British citizenship because of minor offences that were considered incompatible with the “good character” requirement, the contrast with citizenship acquisition by descent from an Irish (grand)parent is striking. No residence requirement is required of those eligible for citizenship by descent. The different treatment of potentially new citizens depending on whether they obtain citizenship by naturalisation, on the hand, or descent (or other forms of compensatory citizenship for that matter), on the other, has become very visible with this judgment.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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