- 30 Dec 20
Elsewhere in Europe, the contribution made by foreign healthcare and other frontline workers has been recognised with a commitment to fast-tracking their citizen ship applications. However, the State has no plans to follow suit here – leading to the launch of an online petition, created by Dr. Mohsin Kamal…
In an online petition launched recently, migrant frontline workers are calling on the Department of Justice to fast-track the citizenship applications of healthcare professionals who have shown exceptional dedication in the battle to curb the coronavirus pandemic in Ireland.
The online petition created by Dr Mohsin Kamal, an infectious disease registrar at Dublin's Crumlin Hospital, describes migrant healthcare workers as “the backbone of Irish healthcare system.” Their sacrifices, the petition says, mostly go unnoticed.
"They can't fly home because they have commitment to this country, they are giving their everything to this," Dr Kamal, who is from Pakistan, wrote on the petition website.
The petition, launched just a few days ago, has already garnered 650 signatures. But that number seems certain to rise quickly, as people begin to return to work after the Christmas break.
Some European countries, France among them, have adopted policies to expedite the citizenship process of foreign frontline workers who have distinguished themselves in the battle against Covid-19.
The ‘pandemic citizenship’ strategy adopted by French authorities benefits international doctors and nurses – but, tellingly, it also includes rubbish collectors, cleaners and cashiers who have risked their lives during the epidemic.
France is known for its stringent immigration rules, which often makes a migrant's journey toward citizenship long and winding. That makes the decision taken to reward immigrants all the more significant.
TAKEN FOR GRANTED
Ireland, it seems, remains mute to those who have fulfilled that same role here. Asked by Hot Press, the Department of Justice has stated that there are no plans to adopt a similar policy in Ireland.
The granting of Irish citizenship is a ‘privilege’ and an ‘honour’ that confers an array of rights and entitlements, a spokesperson for the Department said.
“Not only within the State,” the spokesperson added, “but also at European Union level, and it is important that appropriate procedures are in place to preserve the integrity of the process.
“All applicants are required to meet minimum periods of reckonable residence and standard checks are carried out as part of the overall process.”
However, the spokesperson said that Minister Helen McEntee recognises and appreciates the crucial role that migrant frontline workers have played to date in battling the epidemic.
“Their exceptional commitment,” the spokesperson said, “has been particularly clear throughout the pandemic, during which they have been playing a key role in preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”
That apparently has not weighed heavily enough on the relevant consciences here in Ireland. Or not yet anyway.
"There are no provisions,” Hot Press was told, “to apply different criteria depending on the category of employment of the applicant.”
Dr Kamal, who is from Pakistan and spent Christmas Day on call in the hospital, says he feels that the State takes ‘foreign’ frontline workers' efforts for granted.
“I think they take all the services immigrants provide here for granted,” he told Hot Press. “They think we are just cheap labour which can be easily replaced.”
That, of course, is far from the truth.
According to the Irish Medical Council, more than 2,800 Irish doctors pulled out of the Irish Medical Register between 2015 and 2017. Irish doctors, it seems, are prepared to leave the country, heading by preference for places that offer them better pay and working conditions.
That exodus has left Ireland’s healthcare system reliant on over 6,000 internationally trained doctors.
Against that backdrop, Labour Senator Ivana Bacik has indicated support for the petition, calling on the State to expedite the citizenship application process for international frontline workers.
A person must have five years of reckonable residence to be eligible to apply for Irish citizenship. Unfortunately, there are other issues in play too.
Unlike other EU members states like Sweden or the Netherlands, the Irish Government doesn’t count any of the time “spent as an asylum seeker or on a student visa” as reckonable residence.
The failure to expedite the citizenship process for migrant healthcare workers is just one of the problems they face in Ireland, Dr Kamal says.
Some non-European doctors are limited by red tape that stops them from landing permanent positions, or moving up the medical ladder in Irish hospitals.
Until recently, people who had completed their medical studies and internships in non-European countries couldn't apply to the trainee specialist division of the medical register, which prevented them getting consultant positions.
A recent amendment to the legislation, brought on as a result of years of campaigning by the Irish Medical Council and non-EU doctors themselves, has finally removed that obstacle.
However, as Dr Kamal explains, being eligible for training means very little when the system isn’t based on merit or fairness.
The law, Dr Kamal says, stipulates that EU citizens must be prioritised over their non-European peers when it comes to entering training programmes.
Most gallingly, even during the pandemic, the State issued deportation orders for healthcare workers who have been seeking asylum here. Minister McEntee reassured the Dáil this month that less than five people were deported to their countries of origin since St Patrick's Day. But there is no getting around the fact that the threat remains a very live one.
Dr. Kamal’s petition offers a way in which that particular issue can be speedily addressed.