Internet ‘bots’ used to block immigrants from making visa appointments

People waiting for the Garda National Immigration Bureau to open on Burgh Quay, Dublin in 2014. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

Immigrants in Ireland who apply for re-entry and renewal visas are being blocked from making appointments with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) by unscrupulous internet opportunists.

Internet ‘bot’ programmes are being used to block-book appointments with the service, which are then sold through Facebook pages and phone apps to foreign nationals for up to €25.

Non-EU nationals who have permission to live in Ireland must apply for a re-entry visa if they wish to leave the country for a short period before returning here. They must also renew their permission to remain visas on a regular basis.

A statement from INIS said it was aware some customers were experiencing difficulties in making an appointment. Asked to comment on independent sites block-booking appointments, it said: “We are examining with our technical resources why this is the case and if multiple bookings are being made by individuals. We would regard this as a breach of trust in the system which impacts on others seeking appointments and steps are being taken to address this.”

The Department of Justice ended the online appointment service for re-entry visas last Monday with the exception of emergency re-entry visas.

People seeking re-entry visas must now send their applications with their passport by post to the INIS office with a processing time of five to six weeks. The online system remains in place for people renewing their permission to stay in Ireland.

The INIS has said its registration office on Burgh Quay will open on a number of Saturdays between September and November to meet the increase in demand for appointments.