THE family of West Cork based businessman Bill Liao are facing an uncertain future in Ireland because of a citizenship ruling, despite calling this home having moved here 10 years ago from Australia.
Bill received his citizenship last April which meant his daughter Willow (20), and sons Riley (22) and Liam (24), all students, along with wife Kerrie, an agricultural scientist, could automatically apply.
Recalling that occasion in Kilkenny he said: ‘It’s difficult to express the depth of background anxiety you have as an immigrant, but at that ceremony, once I was welcomed, I can’t describe how relieved it felt to be accepted. My family and I have fallen in love with Ireland and I was so looking forward to them having that same feeling.’
However, a High Court ruling in recent weeks has stated that an applicant must have 12 months of unbroken residence in this country prior to their application date. Previously, six weeks had been permitted.
That’s a problem for Bill’s children as they unknowingly travelled to Switzerland, where they lived previously for a short holiday before their citizenship application, totally unaware how it could impact on their futures.
Bill, who lives on a small farm in the Timoleague area and works in a venture capital business, said the ruling had come ‘totally out of the blue.’
‘I did not know this was going on – it was not on my radar at all. It wasn’t until my good friend Ruth who owns Urru in Bandon sent me a Twitter message that I became aware of it.
‘The night before I went to bed as a newly minted Irish man, and at 8am the next morning I was in blind panic.’
Bill, who cofounded the CoderDojo movement, said his initial fear was that his own citizenship could be impacted but he was reassured by his lawyer this would not be the case.
But next his concern turned to his family whose applications are now uncertain.
‘So now you have a situation where new applicants are “locked in” for a year; but it’s worse for my family as they were already in the system and left the country, when it wasn’t permitted to do so even for a second.’
He said the extent of the problem was huge and estimated that between 20-30,000 people in the State are now on uncertain footing.
‘This will also see situations where you have highly skilled workers in this country who have applied for citizenship and who are now unable to travel abroad to head office.
‘I’ve even heard of some projects being cancelled because of this. So many lives are being disrupted,’ he said.
Bill has sought help from a top policy specialist to come up with a solution to the problem which is causing his family untold anxiety.
He has come up with a draft which Bill says would only require a paragraph to be inserted in the current legislation to amend the situation.
‘I’ve had it drafted and checked by an immigration lawyer and sent to TDs and I’m waiting to see if anyone gets back to me.
‘I think this affects enough people to recall the Dáil and I’m handing them a solution – fully drafted legislation that is completely free.’
He added: ‘We picked Ireland as it’s a nice place to live – it’s home now, we’ve built our lives here.’
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said that the situation is being dealt with as an ‘urgent priority’ and that the staff in the Justice department are studying the ruling with the office of the Attorney General.