The State has been urged to show a greater understanding of the nature of religious volunteers in a bid to speed up the immigration process for clerical and religious students coming to Ireland.
Fr Hugh McMahon SSC, Executive Secretary of the missionary representative body the Irish Missionary Union (IMU) told The Irish Catholic he felt that a greater understanding would simplify the visa process that many religious from overseas have to go through.
It comes after Louth Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick quizzed Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald in the Dáil over why a constituent with a religious volunteer visa had been refused permission for a visa extension beyond their three-year stay in Ireland.
Responding to the Dáil question, Ms Fitzgerald said permission for lay volunteers is granted for 12 months at a time for a maximum period of three years, and that Mr Fitzpatrick’s constituent is in line to complete the three-year period in August.
Fr McMahon expressed concerns about delays in visa processing, and told The Irish Catholic of “people from religious congregations coming to Ireland who have had more problems [than usual] recently in extending their visas”.
Explaining how local religious superiors would typically apply on behalf of congregation members from abroad, or would accompany them in their applications, Fr McMahon said, “They have encountered more red tape and slightly more difficulties than before.” He added that this applied not just to regular volunteers but to congregation members coming to study in Ireland, even though such students would usually be financially supported.
Despite this, he did not believe religious volunteers were being specifically targeted, he said, instead speculating that they were probably falling victim to increasingly rigorous visa processing across Ireland as a whole.
“With a better understanding and better communication with the groups involved they’d be able to explain the position,” he said.
“More attention should be given,” he continued, as “when the message does get through in individual cases they finally solve them but it does cause some anxiety at the time.”