Ireland may impose tougher visa rules on nationals of 11 countries

The Irish Government is to consider the introduction of new visa requirements for visitors from 11 non-EU countries, a move which would reflect the possible stance of the UK authorities.

The countries involved, namely Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela, have already been targeted by the British Home Office following a 'Visa Waiver Test'.

The test looked at the level of risk posed by citizens of all non-EU countries and was based on factors such as passport integrity, known levels of illegal immigration, crime and security threats posed and the level of co-operation of an offender's home country in addressing these threats and dealing with any deportations.

The British Home Office concluded last summer that there was 'a strong case' for imposing a tighter visa regime on the 11 named countries, with a new 6 month visa becoming mandatory if the risk situation did not improve. A review will be conducted in December when a final decision will be taken.

The British list includes several countries, including Brazil and Mauritius, from which the Irish Government believes relatively high numbers of illegal immigrants in Ireland also originate.

A spokeswoman for the Irish Department of Justice confirmed that the department was aware of the change being considered by the British and said that 'in the event of the United Kingdom deciding to implement such a change, the question of whether or not Ireland will impose similar requirements will be given full consideration, particularly in light of the common travel area which operates between Ireland and the United Kingdom.'

The Irish Government believes that the absence of a visa requirement has been abused by some people from 'visa-free' states who enter Ireland posing as students or tourists but whose real intention is to stay for work reasons. Indeed, officers from the Garda National Immigration Bureau turn away significant numbers of potential visitors for that reason.

Last March, a diplomatic row broke out between Ireland and Brazil over the detention in Mountjoy Prison of three students who arrived at Dublin airport. The case became a national news story in Brazil and led to the police there being called to investigate a bomb threat at the Irish embassy in the capital, Brasilia. The students said it was their intention to stay in Dublin for the weekend and return to Portugal, where they were enrolled at university.

The 11 countries being considered for tougher visa rules have a combined population of over 300 million people and any moves to make entry more difficult may be opposed by Irish tourism officials, who believe that the absence of visa requirements for short stays gives Ireland a useful advantage in attracting tourists.