Is Ireland’s visa regime harming our relations with African countries and undermining our Africa Strategy? – Noel Casserly

Is Ireland’s visa regime harming our relations with African countries and undermining our Africa Strategy? – Noel Casserly

The Irish Government is committed to strengthening relations with African countries. Government policy as set out in ‘Global Ireland: Ireland’s Strategy for Africa to 2025’ aims to strengthen political partnerships with African countries and institutions and put in place frameworks to boost trade and investment. Yet a cumbersome and overly strict visa regime is making it extremely difficult for many visitors from Africa to visit Ireland for legitimate business reasons.

Figures published by the Department of Justice show that, overall almost 90% of total visa applications are granted. But the figures also show particular difficulties for citizens of some African countries in securing visas to travel here. For example in 2019 almost half of the visa applications to the Irish embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, were rejected.

Green Skibbereen, a not for profit community group promoting climate action and sustainability recently invited a delegation from Ghana to attend a 4 day programme on sustainable rural development in West Cork. The event, planned for last May, aimed to share a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities for the agri-food sector in Ghana, including the vulnerabilities to the impacts to climate change, land use including sustainable forest management, and the need to develop sustainable solutions in production, access to markets, supply chain and distribution. The delegation from Ghana comprised Government officials (agriculture, rural development, planning) agri-business (cocoa development board, shea butter industry, cashew nut growers) and research and academia. The initial visa applications were lodged at the Irish consulate in Accra and then sent on to the Irish Embassy in Abuja. After two months deliberation all but one of the visa applications were rejected. The delegation intending to travel had already paid for their flights and their accommodation costs. And the organisers had invested in designing a full programme with committed speakers and events.

In a similar situation, Azorom, an international consultancy based in Dublin providing services internationally, including many countries in Africa, had applied for visas, also last May,  for four engineers, employed by the state Electricity company in northern Ghana (NEDCo) to Ireland for a training programme.  The project they are working on is funded by the World Bank. Their visa applications were also refused by the Irish embassy in Abuja.

Unfortunately, we seem to be following this very negative approach to short-term visitors from Africa common in some other countries.  For example, in 2019,  senior leaders in many  universities and research institutes accused the UK Home Office of institutional racism and damaging British resaerch projects through increasingly arbitrary and “insulting” visa refusals for African academics.

The Department of Justice in Ireland contend that, as with all visa services worldwide, the central concern in deciding on visa applications is to strike an appropriate balance between protecting the country’s vital national interests by maintaining an effective immigration regime while at the same time not placing unnecessary or unreasonable obstacles in the way of intending visitors.  But there seems to be a clear lack of joined up Government policy with such a clumsy and cumbersome visa regime with a very high visa rejection rate for visitors from Africa. This clearly contradicts and undermines the policy aspirations in Ireland’s Africa Strategy and damages Ireland’s global reputation.

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Noel Casserly

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