It’s St. Paddy’s day but I can celebrate a little harder this time. Two days ago, I got my notice of entry into Ireland’s Foreign Birth Registry, declaring me an Irish citizen. I’m able to do that because I have 3 Irish grandparents (2 born in Ireland.) Irish law declares that anybody born to somebody born in Ireland is automatically Irish. That made my father, whose parents were both born there, an Irish citizen even though he never got a passport. Because my father was an Irish citizen (not born on the Island) that also gives me the right to claim it, though I had to do the paperwork, it is not automatic. If I had children after this, they could also claim it, but if I had any before this registration, they would not.
I decided to do this for a few reasons. First, it will allow me to live, work and travel freely in Ireland or anywhere else in the E.U. The passport control lines for Canadians are not usually that long, but it’s nicer to not be quizzed. But in the last few years, I have encountered several situations where it would have been very useful to have a 2nd passport:
- On a trip to Russia, I discovered there was a visa war between Canada and Russia, and Russia was making Canadians wait 21 days for a Visa while the rest of the world waited 6 or less. I had to change a flight over that and barely made my conference. It would have been handy to use an Irish passport then. (Update: Possibly not. Russia and others require you to use the passport which allows residence, and you must apply where you live. So my Irish documents are no good at the San Francisco consulate as I don’t live there using the Irish passport.)
- Getting stamps in your passport for Israel or its border stations means some other countries won’t let you in. Israelis will stamp a piece of paper for you but resent it, and you can lose it. A 2nd passport is a nice solution. (For frequent visitors, I believe Canada and the USA both offer a 2nd passport valid only for travel to Israel.)
- Described earlier, last year I lost my passport in Berlin. While I got tremendous service in passport replacement, this was only because my mother was in hospital. Otherwise I would have been stuck, unable to travel. With 2 passports, you can keep them in two places, carry one and leave one in the hotel safe etc. While Canada does have an emergency temporary passport, some countries only offer you a travel document to get you home, and you must cancel any other travel on your trip.
- On entry to Zimbabwe, I found they charged Canadians $75 per entry, while most other nations paid $30 for 1 and $45 for two. Canada is charging Zimbabweans $75 so they reciprocate. Stupid External Affairs, I bet far more Canadians go to Zimbabwe than the other way around
- On entry to Zambia, it was $50 to transit for most countries but free/no-visa for the Irish. I got my passport 1 week after this, sigh. Ireland has a visa abolition deal.
All great reasons to have two passports. I don’t have that yet, though. (Update: I got it in June) Even though I presume that the vast majority of those who do the Irish foreign birth registry immediately want a passport, it doesn’t work that way. After a 21 month wait, I have my FBR certificate, which I now must mail back to the same consulate that sent it, along with several of the same documents I used in getting the FBR like my original birth certificate. While it makes huge sense to do them together, it doesn’t work that way.
The process is quite opaque. You send in your papers and you don’t get anything — they don’t acknowledge they got them, they don’t do a cursory check. They just tell you processing takes 18-24 months. You can’t inquire as to the status or how far along things are. You just wait, and one day a Fedex arrives. I have suggested to them that they would cut down the number of inquiries for status if they just posted on their web site “We’re now sending out responses to requests filed in month of year and people could get a sense of it. Of course, even more ideally they would give you a file number and let you query it on the web. They don’t get big budgets to do fancy web stuff though.
Ireland is not alone. Canada also changed its laws recently to allow any child of a Canadian to be automatically Canadian. Their web site says when you file your paperwork, that in 4 months they will give you a receipt for your payment, and then 8 months after that you will get your citizen card — which you can send right back in to get a passport. I find the 4 months for the receipt amusing. When I buy on Amazon, I usually have the e-mail receipt for my order in my mailbox before the web page refreshes! Otherwise, though I remain impressed by my Berlin experience with the Canadian passport staff.
Another friend has a true nightmare story from Greece which also allows children and grandchildren to register as Greeks. Her story is dreadful, because they have the same 2 year turnaround time on applications. She’s been at it 15 years. She files an application, and 2 years later they point out some nit that is wrong in the application so she files again. 2 years later they point out another nit. And so on, and so on, often redoing things again and again. Sometimes changing them — she had kids — and sometimes having to do ridiculous things like having her Greek father annul his marriage because something was wrong in the paperwork and it’s better to have no marriage than one with the wrong paperwork. This makes the Irish experience a walk in the park.
A few quirks: For my Irish application, you pick one grandparent, and I used my father’s mother because I knew her birth/death particulars more accurately, making it easier to get her certificates. She was born in Belfast, which as you might know, is not in the Republic of Ireland. (Though in 1898 when she was born there was no division.) The Irish constitution declares that anybody born on the Island counts, regardless of the U.K. possession of Ulster. When I got all her papers though, I found that her name had a slightly different form on all six! Her birth certificate used nicknames “Lizzie Maria” but when she got married she thought her formal name was “Elizabeth Marion” and then later my Father knew her as “Marion Elizabeth.” You have to submit a lot of documents:
- The grandparent’s birth certificate
- The marriage certificate of your grandparents
- The grandparent’s death certificate or ID — yes, even for somebody born in 1889, man or woman, though no man has ever lived that long.
- Your parent’s long form birth certificate (naming the grandparents)
- Your parents’ marriage certificate
- Your parent’s death certificate or ID
- Your long form birth certificate
- Your ID and various other things to prove your address
After seeing all the variations in my grandmother’s name, I started to wonder if I should have worked harder to find my grandfather’s papers, since his name would have stayed pretty constant, avoiding at least the change due to marriage. And he was born in Tipperary, which is in the Republic. They assured me that name variations are common, and that for this purpose, Tipperary is no better than Belfast. And indeed they were right. Still, it makes sense that if I had been able to file them both in the same form, then any problem with one of them (like the names) could have let them switch over to the other. The Canadian application lets you declare both parents (if both are Canadian) even though just one is needed.
This was all a fair bit of work, and cost about $500. Which would probably not be worth it just for easier passport control when going to Europe, but makes sense considering all the other factors. I heard a rumour that Ireland and some other countries were considering cutting back on this system because it was becoming too popular with Americans hoping to retire in Europe and get free health care. As a Canadian, I can already get that so it was not an incentive for me, but it did prompt me into doing it sooner. I have no idea if there is anything to the rumour.
What’s Irish and sits out in the yard? Me.