Dear Minister Charlie Flanagan TD, the minister for Justice and Equality,
I'm writing this letter after considering carefully what to say. I read with interest, about how happy the minister was in welcoming a few refugee families to Ireland and read in the newspaper, that over 10,000 people were granted Irish citizenship in 2018. Before I start to tell my sad and unfair battle with Irish immigration, I would like to express that I have nothing against welcoming these new refugees and all the new Irish citizens. My question to you minister Flanagan is: WHY NOT ME? WHY NOT MY CHILDREN?
Business Owner, Mother & Contributing Citizen:
I come from a South American country and I'm an immigrant living in Ireland for over 11 years. Since 2012, I have opened my own business and things have gone well. My quality of life has increased considerably compared to what I had back in 2010. I'm a single mother who is very integrated to the core of Irish society and have been paying taxes and working here since the moment I arrived. I’m not here to take advantage, I’m here as business owner, mother and to live as a contributing citizen to Irish society. Before I go into the battle I have had with your immigration services, I want you to know who I am Minister:
I'm a Mother:
I have 2 children
My last child was born in 2015.
My children play sports, love music & dance
They go local school, and both speak only English
Most of my friends are Irish
Since I arrived here 12 years ago, I have been outside of Ireland for a total of only 45 days, when I went back home to visit my family
I’m in Ireland almost 12 years now. I'm a single mother with 2 children who I raised on my own. I relied on my own source of income to support them. I work full time and have an Irish babysitter in the afternoons. I have never received any kind of social welfare payment and have paid my own rent for the past 10 years. My children were born here and both myself and my children are well integrated in the local Irish community.
When my relationship broke up my baby was only 3 months old. I was going through a very difficult time, trying to work and mind both of my children. I became sick and as a result money was short. The only thing I have ever asked for from this state was help from the uniform allowance scheme for my eldest child. I was denied the application as I was not entitled to it, due to the terms and conditions under the “stamp 1” visa I was on.
The Normal Process:
When I first arrived in Ireland, I applied to extend my visa which was denied. I applied again, and while I was waiting on the second extension, I met my ex and we had our first child. When my oldest child came along, the immigration services took both of our passports to process our visas. My visa extension was never confirmed and over the subsequent weeks, after the birth of my son, the Immigration Authorities advised me to keep them updated if any of the following items changed:
Over those months and years after the birth of my son, I worked hard. I had many jobs including; as delivery woman, a babysitter, I worked in a take away, in restaurants, as a cleaner, worked in hotels and B&Bs. I had been to the immigration office in my city, every 3 months and I always updated them regarding my situation. With every change in job I always informed the immigration authorities of the change in circumstance. Just to ensure proper communication, I wrote many letters to the authorities asking them to clarify my situation.
If the system was working correctly, I should have received a temporary “stamp 4” in 2015, received a permanent stamp in 2016 and should have been able to apply for official citizenship in 2017. This was not what happened in my situation.
After 4 years waiting on my first visa, I requested a direct meeting with the INIS to clarify my situation. When I spoke to them, I discovered that nothing had been updated in my file. Despite my child being born here, not even a copy of my child’s birth certificate was in my immigration file. It seemed that, my regular visits to immigration and the numerous correspondences I had with the authorities, had amounted to nothing. When I went directly to the immigration authorities, I was served with a deportation letter, within the first 7 minutes of my meeting. Thankfully, I had some money saved at that time and hired a solicitor who in 3 weeks got me a “stamp 1” visa as a “special measure”. The stamp was due to last for one year and it was 2012.
According to the Immigration Authorities, the original delay in processing my visa caused me to technically become an illegal citizen. I have argued with the Immigration Authorities on this point stating that it was their fault that there was a processing delay. I wrote letters and went to the ombudsman about it, but I keep being told there is nothing that can be done.
Even now as a business owner and a proud mother, I always apply to renew my visa 3-4 weeks prior to it expiring. One year I waited 9 months to have the renewal of my visa processed, another time I waited 6 months. In 2017 I should have been able to legally apply for Irish citizenship. The processing delays and the fact that I have been registered as technically illegal, means that my dream of becoming an Irish citizen may not become a reality.
The Continual Battle:
I have tried all avenues to resolve my situation. After 3 years on the “stamp 1” visa I applied for a “stamp 4” visa. The request was denied by INIS as they said that I didn't qualify for it. In 2017 I asked my local TD for assistance. The TD wrote to the immigration and thanks to him I had a temporary stamp 4 for 1 year. This allowed me to work in Ireland without the need to constantly renew my work permit. I applied again last year for a long visa which will make operating my business, running my life in Ireland much easier. To my surprise I was once again refused and told that I do not qualify for long term visa. I have seen people of the same nationality as me, come to Ireland and get their stamp 4 right away, allowing them permanent residency after only 1 year.
The questions I have for you minister is, why can’t I get my "stamp 4", why can't I become a citizen?
Why Not Me:
Before anybody judges me, I have tried everything to stand up for myself. I sought help from several different sources. I have spoken to representative groups that help immigrants here in Ireland. They all agree that what happened in my case was very wrong. They can’t understand why I often have to wait for up to 6 months when renewing my visa. They have no explanation as to why I cannot get a “stamp 4” visa. They simply cannot understand what is going on with my case.
Everyone I talk to, keeps telling me the same thing; that the immigration authorities have the singular power to decide on each case. I have written to the immigration authorities several times. I have brought this to the attention of the ombudsman but have received no explanation. I would like to ask the minister Charlie Flanagan, what am I doing wrong? What have I done to deserve this sort of treatment from the Irish Immigration Authorities? As a tax payer, a business owner, as a mother of two children born here and who have been integrated to the society over 11 years, why can’t I be an Irish citizen too?
As I read the stories about those new Irish citizens and the welcome that was extended to the new refugees, I ask you minister: Why are you not happy to help me too?
Grateful, hoping for a change,
A mother, business owner and hopeful citizen