41. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of spouses and-or family members of international nurses working here awaiting visas; the range of waiting times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12000/19]


Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I am advised by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department that it is not possible to extract the particular profession of the applicants' sponsor from the on-line visa application system and, therefore, the specific information requested is not available. 
However, I understand such applications from family members of 'critical skills permit' holders, including nurses, are generally made under the 'join family' visa category.  Decisions regarding the grant or refusal of ‘join family’ visas are made in a number of INIS Visa Offices overseas, the INIS Visa Office in Dublin, and at Embassies of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which process certain visa applications under delegated sanction from my Department.  These applications are processed on a priority basis and are, generally, processed within approximately two weeks of the applicant submitting the ‘join family’ visa application to the relevant Visa Office or Embassy.
The processing time at each office and location worldwide is determined by a number of factors such as the volume and complexity of applications, the completeness and sufficiency of information or documentation provided by the applicant, whether further investigation is required or not, individual circumstances, peak application periods, seasonal factors, and the resources available.  While every effort is made to process applications as quickly as possible, processing times inevitably vary as a result. 
More generally, a number of measures have been put in place to deal with the increased demand for visas to come to Ireland.  This has included the assignment of additional staff to help process applications, and the streamlining of visa processes where possible. 
The central concern in deciding on visa applications, as with all visa services worldwide, 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 facilitating travel for those who meet the criteria.  Each visa application is therefore decided on its own merits taking all factors into account.
In addition, the Minister for Business Enterprise and Innovation and I announced last week that spouses and partners of Critical Skills Employment Permit holders (including certain nursing and midwifery professionals) will now be able to access the Irish labour market without the need to obtain an employment permit.  I am confident this very positive change to the immigration regime will further streamline existing processes, offer greater clarity to employers and applicants making it more attractive for attracting international talent to Ireland.