For many Americans living in Ireland, legally in most cases, Ireland’s doorway swings on a big hinge.
And while they generally find the Irish people a welcoming bunch, the rules and regulations surrounding long term residence mean that being forced to walk back outside the door is a daily possibility.
And don’t even think about a red carpet.
Kelli Ann Malone has her eye on the door right now.
She is an American citizen with a PhD, two published books to her name and a third under contract, who has made Ireland her home these past several years and would like to make the arrangement permanent.
But she is increasingly afraid that, when push comes to shove, she will enjoy no more rights than a casual backpacker and the rules will propel her off the island.
Malone – she often uses the Irish form of her family name, Maoileoin – is originally from Newport, Rhode Island and lived in the Boston area for many years before moving to Ireland in 2006.
She now lives in Mullingar, but wants to move beyond just temporary residency so as to call the County Westmeath town her long term home.
Malone came to Ireland as a Fulbright Scholar and currently enjoys legal residence, though how permanent is something that Malone has lately come to question.
“In September of 2008 I was hired as a lecturer at a university after working on Achill Island in 2007 and serving as a Fulbright Scholar between over 2006 and 2007.
“However, I find myself in a situation where, by virtue of my status as a non-EEA national, I will lose my university position at the end of August and will likely be asked to leave the country shortly thereafter,” Malone told the Echo.
If residence and employment status in Ireland could be compared to the ring system around Saturn, Malone, as a U.S. citizen, would be inhabiting one of the outer rings.
She would be closer in if she was a citizen of one of the EEA countries. The European Economic Area comprises the 27 members of the European Union plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
She would be closer in again as an EU member state citizen, and standing firmly on the surface if she had an Irish passport.
But right now, Malone’s status on Irish soil is wobbly.
“I am a very capable, highly qualified individual who has worked hard, paid my taxes and obeyed the laws since arriving in Ireland in May 2006. It is my desire to remain in the country and to continue to contribute to society,” said Malone, who is in her fifties.
“I have strong ties to my community and have established friendships in Mullingar, Cork and Dublin,” she said.
And just to show that she is not unsympathetic to Irish people facing similar difficulties in America she added: “I have always been a vocal supporter of undocumented Irish in America.”
Malone’s ambition to be allowed to live permanently in Ireland would be achieved if she was married to an Irish citizen. And that may be the case someday. But that someday might be too late.
“I have been in a long-term relationship, three years, with an Irish citizen, and we are considering marriage, but he has not yet filed for his divorce. He has been separated for many years.
“We know this is unusual, but to be honest, we never really contemplated marriage before. We are both in our 50s, won’t be having any children together, and did not think we would have to marry in order for me to remain in the State,” she said.
Divorce, Irish style, is anything but the quickie variety and time is of the essence in Malone’s case.
Malone said that in recent weeks she had met with her solicitor to review the possibility of applying for citizenship, even though she has not been in the State the requisite 60 months.
“He informed me that my 30 months would only result in the application being turned back. He also told me there would be only a slim possibility of me being issued permission to work in the State once my current university contract runs out in August, this even though my (work) permit with them runs through the end of August 2010.”
Malone’s work contract – she prefers not to name the third level institution where she is employed – is ending due to cutbacks and, she said, a directive from the Higher Education Authority “which basically states that all non-EEA nationals without permanent contracts should be let go.”
“I will have no status. They may not even let me collect unemployment even though I’ve paid into the system and am legally entitled to it. It’s crazy,” she said.
One possible course of action for Malone is to file for “de facto relationship status.”
The problem with such a move, she said, was that she has kept rental agreements, utility bills and other pertinent documents in her own name.
“Though we have been in a committed, long-term relationship, he retains his residence in Cork and I have mine in Mullingar aresult of our respective work obligations. Because of this, we lack proof of our relationship. Again, this is something we had neither anticipated, nor were we even aware of the existence of such a status prior to my meeting with the solicitor.”
Malone has recently taken on the co-directorship of a start-up tour company in Dublin and said she has been working hard with her business partner on getting it off the ground.
“In the future, this company could be employing many Irish workers as tour guides, drivers, interpreters, and office personnel. I would like to be able to see this small enterprise develop and grow. I was also on the verge of organizing my finances in order to buy a home, but that, out of necessity, will be put on hold indefinitely,” she said.
Malone has been researching any and all possibilities regarding her type of case and told the Echo that she had found only glimmers of hope.
“One is to gain permission to remain in the State from (justice minister) Dermot Ahern and the other is filing for de facto relationship status which is simply not possible,” she said.
And she added: “If I am in a position where I must collect the dole for any length of time, it will reflect poorly on me when I apply for citizenship. I am trapped by the work permit, yet will likely have no job in the new term because of my status. And because of my status, I will be unable to find work and continue paying my taxes, because I will not have permission to work.
“I just need to know what to do because I am at my wit’s end. I am devoted to education and love my job, and I am excited about developing the new company with my business partner.”
Malone reckons the outlook varies between murky and bleak.
“It will be nearly impossible for me to remain in the country and look for work due to the new draconian rules regarding residency, citizenship, and employment here. Where is the justice?” she said.