403 Forbidden*

Action speaks louder than words: time for more European countries to facilitate entrepreneur visas

It’s a pretty familiar story in techie circles; everyone seems to know at least one entrepreneur that has tried to set up shop in another country and has struggled to do so because of the oh-so-complicated visa application procedures and hefty requirements. … So far, only two countries have clearly defined visas for entrepreneurs: the UK and Ireland.

 — Tech.eu

You would think from the above quote that Ireland has its act together and really wants to attract entrepreneurs; that they have a positive, specific visa process to get them into the country so that they can launch their business with a minimum of fuss.

You’d be wrong.

202 Accepted*

“Action speaks louder than words” they said…

Do they really mean it? I’ve always lived by the rule, “Don’t judge people by what they say; judge them by what they do.” Here’s my actual experience:

On 7 April 2014, solicitors acting on my behalf submitted an application under the Start-up Entrepreneur Program to the Irish Nationalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), and we received a confirmation the same day in which it said the evaluation committee would consider the application “at the end of April.”

On 14 April, we received a follow-up letter (dated 11 April) which asked for more information. The letter ended, “Once in receipt of the above requested information this office should be in a position to consider his application.” We collected this additional information and provided it to the INIS on 23 April.

On 30 April, we received a follow-up letter (dated 28 April) which ended, “Applications are considered by an evaluation committee, the next meeting of the evaluation committee is scheduled during May. This office will be in contact with you in due course following that meeting.”

That is the last we have heard from the INIS.

Note that we were not told the actual dates for the meetings of the evaluation committee (even though they were “scheduled”).

417 Expectation Failed*

On 23 May, we sent a letter asking for an update on the status of the application, and asking if the INIS needed any further documentation or clarifications. We received no response.

According to the INIS website, the standard of service their customers can expect to receive from the Department include an acknowledgement of written communications within 5 working days, and an explanation of any delays:

Written Communication

We will acknowledge the majority of written communications within 5 working days of receiving them and provide a final reply within 20 working days. In cases where there is going to be a delay, we will explain this to our customers by an interim reply before the 20-day period is up. Our staff will provide our customers with full contact details and a reference number (where applicable). If the correspondence is for another Government department or body, we will pass it on directly to that department, and we will tell the customer what we have done with it. [Emphasis added]

On 10 June, we sent a follow-up letter asking for an update on the status of the application, and advising the INIS of issues their delays were causing to the applicant. We received no response.

On 16 June, I sent an email to investmentandstartup@justice.ie asking for an update on the status of the application, and advising the INIS of issues their delays were causing to me. We received no response.

At 4:29pm on 23 June, I rang the INIS Startup & Entrepreneur Unit and asked to speak with [the signatory from the previous correspondence]. He was not answering his phone, so the receptionist put me through to his voicemail. I left a voicemail for him to call me or email me, and provided the details to do so, as well as the application number. I received no response.

From the Department’s website, I expected a response the next day:

Telephone Enquiries

We will be available to answer telephone calls during normal office hours (9:15 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 9:15 a.m.–5:15 p.m. on Friday). Our aim is to answer all calls quickly. We will identify ourselves and our area of work. We will be polite and helpful, and do our best to provide our customers with clear and correct information. If we cannot give an answer straight away, we will take the customer’s details and call the customer back at a suitable time. We will only connect callers to voicemail when the person they wish to speak to is unavailable, and we will do our best to respond to voicemail messages within one working day. [Emphasis added]

On 24 June, my solicitors tried contacting the INIS and were told, “they have recently changed their processes and do not accept telephone enquiries.” So they sent yet another follow-up letter asking for an update on the status of the application, and advising the INIS of issues their delays were causing to me. We received no response.

On 30 June, I sent in a complaint to the Department’s published complaints address, INIScustomercomplaints@justice.ie, with a cc to the Minister, and received a confirmation that they had received the complaint and that “it has been forwarded to the relevant area.”

The last I heard, my application should have been evaluated in May. It is now the beginning of July, and we have not heard from the INIS since April, despite repeated requests by mail, email and telephone. We were given no reason to expect a delay, and have received no explanation for this delay. I think this is unacceptable, and contrary to the Department’s published Customer Service guidelines.

409 Conflict*

The purpose of the application was not just to get me a residency visa, it was also to start a new business in Ireland. When I wrote the business case, I assumed several things that have turned out to be incorrect:

  • That the application could be put together within a few weeks;
  • That the assessment process would take less than a month (I was told by my solicitor that applications were being processed within two weeks); and
  • That I would be in Ireland while the application was being processed, and that my visa would be extended (if necessary) to allow that.

Instead:

  • It took almost three months to gather the required paperwork;
  • The assessment process is an ongoing black hole; and
  • I had to leave the country when my (tourist) visa expired, as the INIS refused to extend it, even though my application for residency had been submitted.

That decision is now causing problems for the business, as is the assessment time.

There are things that need to be done now so that the business can operate as a viable business, as envisaged in the Business Plan. Actually, these would have been done earlier in an ideal world, but the impact of the delay has been acceptable; we’ve passed that period now.

For example, the code for the app has reached the stage where I am able to distribute it to initial testers. Their feedback has highlighted that it really needs a professional designer (which I had accounted for in the Business Plan). And, as we’re getting closer to release date, I also urgently need to start the marketing activities, which includes getting a marketing person involved (also accounted for in the Business Plan).

But I need to have the company set up, so that the costs of hiring these people are properly accounted for, and things like VAT can be claimed appropriately.

Before I can set up the company, I need some assurance that I will be granted the visa. There is no way I’ll set up a business in a country where I’m not permitted to do business! As it is, to comply with visa restrictions for Australians, I’m not able to enter Ireland until 11 July because of the time I spent in the country earlier this year.

The initial app in my my business plan is a tourist-focussed app, and the tourist season is just around the corner. I really want it available, with marketing in place, for this summer’s tourists.

The delays while waiting for my application’s assessment are really starting to affect the business which is the basis of the application. If the app is delayed beyond summer, it will mean that income from the app will probably be delayed until around this time next year. I really want to avoid that!

100 Continue*

I’ll continue with the application process and keep this updated as it continues (hopefully, until we get a 200* response).


Footnotes – From the WWW protocols:

* A 100 Continue return code means “The client should continue with its request. This interim response is used to inform the client that the initial part of the request has been received and has not yet been rejected by the server. The client should continue by sending the remainder of the request or, if the request has already been completed, ignore this response. The server must send a final response after the request has been completed. See section 8.2.3 for detailed discussion of the use and handling of this status code.”. 

* A 200 OK return code means “The request has succeeded.”. 

* A 202 Accepted return code means “The request has been accepted for processing, but the processing has not been completed. The request might or might not eventually be acted upon, as it might be disallowed when processing actually takes place. There is no facility for re-sending a status code from an asynchronous operation such as this.”. 

* A 403 Forbidden error means “The server understood the request, but is refusing to fulfill it. Authorization will not help and the request should not be repeated. If the request method was not HEAD and the server wishes to make public why the request has not been fulfilled, it should describe the reason for the refusal in the entity. If the server does not wish to make this information available to the client, the status code 404 (Not Found) can be used instead.” It seems somewhat apt in my case. 

* A 409 Conflict error means “The request could not be completed due to a conflict with the current state of the resource. This code is only allowed in situations where it is expected that the user might be able to resolve the conflict and resubmit the request. The response body should include enough information for the user to recognize the source of the conflict. Ideally, the response entity would include enough information for the user or user agent to fix the problem; however, that might not be possible and is not required.”. 

* A 417 Expectation Failed error means “The expectation given in an Expect request-header field (see section 14.20) could not be met by this server, or, if the server is a proxy, the server has unambiguous evidence that the request could not be met by the next-hop server.”. 

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