Ireland: New Pre-Clearance Process Launched For de Facto Partners Of Irish Citizens

Last Updated: 22 August 2019
Article by Fragomen  

At a Glance

  • Effective August 19, 2019, a new pre-clearance process has been launched for de facto partners of Irish citizens, who can now apply for pre-clearance overseas.
  • If pre-clearance is granted, de facto partners will be able to register with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) and work in Ireland upon arrival in Ireland, whereas previously they could only apply for registration after entry and work after approval, which could take up to one year.
  • However, due to the need for a new out-of-country step, de facto partners may face additional waiting time overseas before they can enter Ireland while they wait for a pre-clearance decision. The INIS has stated that the new process aims to reduce processing times but has not yet released guidance on the expected time frame for a pre-clearance application submitted from overseas.
  • The new process is only applicable to de facto partners of Irish nationals who are unmarried and does not currently apply to spouses of Irish nationals. Further guidance is being sought on provisions for married couples.

The situation

The Minister for Justice and Equality in Ireland has launched a new streamlined pre-clearance process to make it easier for Irish emigrants to return to Ireland with their de facto partners.

A closer look

  • Pre-clearance process. Effective August 19, 2019, de facto partners of Irish nationals can apply for pre-clearance from overseas and if granted, can register with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) and work in Ireland upon entry to Ireland. Previously, the application process for de facto partners could only begin upon entry to Ireland and took up to one year to complete. Partners could not work in Ireland during this period.
  • Transition period. Starting November 1, 2019, visa and non-visa nationals seeking to join their Irish national de facto partner in Ireland for a period of over 90 days will be required to obtain pre-clearance permission before arriving in Ireland. Applicants can already apply for pre-clearance. There will be a transition period until November 1, during which time de facto partners can enter Ireland without pre-clearance (though visa nationals must obtain a visa to Ireland before travelling as usual).


  • Increased certainty. Pre-clearance will provide partners with greater certainty regarding when they can work in Ireland, whereas the previous process required de facto partners to wait up to a year before receiving their decision.
  • Processing times. The INIS has stated that the new process aims to reduce processing times but has not yet released guidance on the expected time frame for a pre-clearance application submitted from overseas. In addition, due to the need for a new out-of-country step, de facto partners may face additional waiting time overseas before they can enter Ireland while they wait for a pre-clearance decision.
  • Married couples. The announcement by the INIS does not extend to applicants who are married to a returning Irish national and it is currently unclear if a similar pre-clearance process will be introduced for spouses who are non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals. Currently, Non-EEA non-visa (e.g. U.S. citizens) spouses of Irish nationals can use a fast, straightforward process to enter and work in Ireland, but the process for non-EEA visa spouses (e.g. China, India) from outside the EEA involves a wait of between six months to one year overseas. Fragomen is seeking further guidance on this issue and will report on developments.


  • De facto partner definition. According to government guidance, de facto partners for immigration purposes are unmarried opposite or same-sex partners of the Irish national who have been in a genuine relationship akin to marriage or civil partnership in practice, have been living together for at least two years and have a mutual commitment to a shared life together.
  • Ongoing INIS customer service improvement. The new process is part of an ongoing INIS customer service improvement plan which has already seen similar pre-clearance services implemented for de facto partners of Critical Skills Employment Permit Holders and the introduction of streamlined processes for other categories such as students.
  • Regional trends. An increased focus on supporting and incentivizing returning emigrants is emerging across the region, for example in Portugal, where cash initiatives have been suggested to address this. In addition, efforts to streamline and digitize immigration processes are increasing globally.

Looking ahead

As labour shortages continue to grow in Ireland, Fragomen expects the government to continue its efforts to streamline existing immigration processes to make Ireland a more attractive destination for foreign talent and returning emigrants.

It is likely that the INIS will release similar streamlined pre-clearance processes for spouses of Irish nationals who are visa nationals or will extend the existing scheme for de facto partners to married partners. Fragomen is currently liaising with the INIS on this issue and will report on further developments.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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