Celebrating Cultures, Promoting Integration
I thought waiting for an Irish visa approval was a mild form of torture. You need to present double the paper work as compared to most countries and the waiting period was excruciatingly long. The day I finally got my passport back in my hand with a spanking new student visa stamp on it, I began scouting the internet for the next steps I would need to take. And it looked like the REAL hard part was yet to come — securing the ever-elusive Garda National Immigration Bureau or GNIB appointment.
Among the accounts of frustrated students and fresh arrivals who feared deportation for the simple crime of not finding a slot on time, a key word kept popping up on most blogs and reddit discussions: GNIBot. Some lauded it as a quick fix to this great migrant issue and others pointed out that the website and a number of similar platforms that operated similarly were the very reason they were not able to book a slot in the first place.
Buying a GNIB appointment
Platforms like GNIBot operate in a Catch-22 model of sorts. For immigrants in Ireland who have gone through the tiresome process of visa approval and immigration, it can be a harsh realisation that something as simple as registering your residence in a new country could be such a complicated process simply because of a technicality.
The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service or INIS’s appointment booking system has been based almost entirely online since 2016. Logging into the website is a pretty normal process, you fill in your passport number and other personal details.
But the catch presents itself when you try to actually book the appointment. Ideally, you can either choose a date or pick the earliest available slot but it’s common knowledge among the initiated that such an ‘available slot’ has been an urban myth for a very long time.
When to find a slot
Thanks to loopholes in the interface and an easily surpassable CAPTCHA test, a number of businesses have managed to monopolise the system. The appointment slots are booked up as soon as they appear and sold to applicants for a price of €15 to €40.
Ask any student who recently struggled with finding a slot, they would know at least one friend who resigned to buying an appointment that they should have been able to secure easily.
Some individuals I spoke to recommended logging into the website at a window between 10:30 AM to 3 PM and even confessed to setting alarms on their phones to religiously check if available windows had opened up. But again, most of them were unsuccessful and chose the easier ‘bot’ option in the end since it was about something as important as their immigration status.
A broken model
The authorities at Burgh Quay had promised a revamped booking model more than 3 years ago but not much has changed since. In an interview with The Irish Times, GNIBot’s Founder Renan Danton claimed that no bots were involved in the company’s secretive booking process.
Bots or not, the fact that migrants who have already undergone the difficult visa process feel obligated to pay for a service that is owed to them is a major glitch in the system. International students and working professionals frantically searching for a magical slot to appear deserve more than a set of mindless machines to welcome them to Ireland.