I have now been in Ireland for over nine years. As a doctor, I am used to seeing patients on a waiting list. Often I feel intense sympathy towards these people, as all of them are waiting because something is giving them pain; physically or mentally. I know some who have been told that the date for their future appointment is in a year or two. I sometimes wonder what they think. It is excessively rare for someone to have patience for an extended period of time. A year? Or two? Goodness.
I am also on a waiting list. And I have been waiting for over three years now. I qualified to apply for Irish citizenship in 2016. It took me a whole year to dodge through the convoluted process of completing my application and after making sure that there were absolutely no mistakes, I very happily sent it across. Done - thank God that is out of the way. And I was vindicated in my smugness when, within a week of my application, all my passports were sent back to me and I was told, "Your documents are all in order". I was now in the verification stage of the process and it might take some time. That was when I was put on the waiting list. That was June 2017.
In the three years since, I have written close to 30 emails and made numerous phone calls to the Department of Justice. At times, I have had to wait 45 minutes on the phone for someone to get back to me. The window for phone calls from all over the State to the Immigration Bureau is less than two hours twice a week. And in the middle of the working day. It might have been worth it all, if I had ever got a clearer answer than, "I am sorry, there is nothing we need from your end - some applications take more time than others."
Yes. I have found that out. My friends who are fellow surgeons and came on the same plane, in the same aisle seats on either side of me, have now been Irish citizens for two and two-and-a-half years respectively. Sometimes I wonder if I had taken the window or aisle seat and not been nice, would I have been naturalised too? Even when you are talking to a real live human on the tphone, the answer is never definitive. If they don't know what is going on, why are they giving a service? Why dangle a carrot in front of a horse, just out of reach? It seems cruel. I have had to beg for time off, either during a working day or take annual leave just to make that call. And over the three years that I have tried, I have taken to giving up early.
During my single years in Ireland, I sometimes would have a cleaner come in to help me around my apartment or house - a fair few from Brazil and Spain. It was clear from their language that they were not in the country long and I often made the mistake of asking them if they were students or visiting. All of them told me that they had Irish passports and that they just came over and got their citizenships in the next naturalisation ceremonies after their arrival. Some of them complained that the process took three to four months and they were not happy.
I would have given my right kidney and bit of my liver to have had that time frame. Their right to citizenship was based on the fact that one of their grandparents or parents was Irish. And now, after having grown up and not finding their situation at home amounting to a life they wanted, they did what a lot had already done before; come to Ireland and take up residency. I wish them all the best, I really do.
They are hard working and genial people with a humility that makes them endearing. But a secret corner of my heart rebels at the ease with which they lay claim to a land that I have literally poured my heart and soul into for nine years. And yet I am still on a waiting list.
My wife, who by the way is Irish - born and raised in 'D4' as she calls it - sometimes exhorts me to claim citizenship by marriage. She tells me that continuing to apply for a work visa is silly, as I could bypass all that by withdrawing my previous application (which she says is pretty much dead anyway) and applying on the basis of us being married. If I had less self-respect and dignity, a character fault baked in to me by my ever-righteous parents, I would have done so already. My problem - the 'baked in' bit.
I am not alone in this. I know of at least 50 doctors in my position on the waiting list. Each of them knows another 50 more.