The Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform, Mr Dermot Ahern T.D. today published a set of proposals for reform of non-EEA student immigration and initiated a public consultation process on the issue.

The discussion document drawn up by the Department, in consultation with a number of other Government Departments, contains more than 20 specific proposals, including capping the length of time a person can spend in Ireland as a student, introducing a two tier system to facilitate the targeting of incentives towards the upper end of the academic spectrum, a tighter inspection regime, possible changes in respect of visas and new guidelines on work placement or internship. Some transitional measures are set out for those already in the system. Examination of the current provisions regarding access of students to the labour market is to be the subject of a separate review.

Announcing the Review, Minister Ahern said: "We need a take a fresh look at how we are dealing with non-EEA students. International education is a vital industry with significant growth potential and we will only achieve that potential by having a visibly strong regulatory environment. The vast majority of our service providers offer a quality product and it is everyone's interest to root out those who do not or who engage in abuses of the system. From an immigration perspective we also have to be satisfied that people coming to Ireland do so for a genuine purpose and comply with any conditions applicable to their stay."

The student immigration review forms part of a comprehensive overhaul by Government of the international education system in Ireland, combining regulatory and organisational reform, a more co-ordinated approach to marketing and development and better alignment with Ireland’s approach to immigration generally. In this context, the Government recently approved a series of proposals from the Minister for Education and Science for the regulation, development and marketing of the international education sector.

The new proposals envisage that students should, with limited exceptions, spend no more than 5 years in Ireland as a student overall with a limit of two years in further education or English language courses. It had become apparent that a significant number of language students in particular were enrolling year after year as a means of remaining in the State and working. Overall the review places an increased emphasis on progression through the system.

Minister Ahern continued: "We have to look at students as more than consumers of an educational product. People coming to Ireland to do advanced degrees are potential entrepreneurs, high skills employees or scientific researchers and we should be looking at how they can progress within the immigration system after their graduation. I am open to proposals on this during the consultation period."

The Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform is working closely with the Department of Education and Science in developing a whole of Government approach. Two new groups will be set up. An interdepartmental committee on student immigration will develop the student immigration regime and will review submissions received during the consultation phase. This would work in tandem with a new high level group to be established by the Minister for Education and Science to look at developing and marketing the industry and issues of quality assurance.

In conclusion, the Minister stressed that the proposals outlined in the review will be the subject of further consultation and he invited all relevant stakeholders to take the opportunity to make submissions on the draft proposals and on student immigration issues more generally. These submissions will be considered further in the context of an Interdepartmental Group which will then bring forward final proposals to the Government on the issues outlined in the review.

Submissions on the draft proposals, which are available on www.justice.ie, should be made via e-mail to studentpolicyproposals@justice.ie or by post to

Student Immigration Review Group
Immigration and Citizenship Policy
Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS)
13/14 Burgh Quay
Dublin 2

The final date for receipt of submissions is Friday 9 October 2009.

1 September 2009

Note to Editors

This review is limited to non-EEA students. Those coming from the EU (for example the summer language students), constituting the large majority of overseas students,  are not affected as they enjoy rights of free movement and essentially no immigration issues arise. Within the non EEA group, the concentration is on full-time students (generally those coming for more than 3 months) in Higher Education, Further Education and English Language courses.   

Department of Education and Science

The review should be seen in tandem with initiatives being taken by the Minister for Education and Science in the regulation, development and marketing of the international education sector and the two Departments will continue to work closely together.        

Public Consultation Process

The Minister is now opening the proposals in the document for a period of public consultation. This period will run until Friday 9 October 2009. Contributions are encouraged from any person or body with an interest in the issue. It is expected that representative bodies for educational institutions and student bodies, along with individual colleges and students, would make contributions. Special additional arrangements will be made for consultation with the Social Partners. 

Key Recommendations

The review outlines 20 key proposals in this area of which the following are the most significant.    

• Creation of a two tier system for students (Tier 1 reserved for degree level and above and the English language and further education sectors in Tier 2. 
• Capping the length of time a student can spend in Tier 2 to two years and the overall time present in the state as a student to 5 years overall (with exceptions for those at Masters and PHD level or on long term courses such as medicine).
• A quality mark should be established with courses not achieving a quality standard no longer recognised for immigration purposes. (Development of the Quality Mark was announced in recent days by the Minister for Education and Science)
• Increased focus on inspection
• Consideration should be given to developing a licensing system for providers of education to overseas students.  
• Further restrictions on the placement of non-EEA children in Irish Schools that are in receipt of State funding. The possibility of a levy that would recoup the full economic cost to be considered. 
• Continued restriction on family reunification for students with some exceptions
• Provision for internship or work placement as part of an educational course
• Consideration of a visa requirement for all students staying beyond 3 months with certain possible exceptions on the basis of traditional two-way migration patterns or proven low risk     
• An interdepartmental group chaired by the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform to co-ordinate policy development in relation to student immigration. (This group will work in tandem with a new high level group proposed by the Minister for Education and Science aimed at developing Ireland's International Education Sector).    

In addition the review outlines some transitional measures for existing non - EEA students.     

Student Work Concession

Full time non-EEA students pursuing a course on the Internationalisation Register are permitted to work 20 hours per week during term time and 40 hours per week outside that. There are no immediate plans to change this. However, it is proposed that, in the interests of general consistency and in the context of the current economic climate,  the concession should be the subject of further analysis. Consideration of the work concession is a separate exercise from the review of the student immigration regime generally and will be carried out over a considerably longer timeframe. It will also have regard to the impact of the other measures proposed in the review document.     Examination of the work concession will be conducted by the Interdepartmental Group on Student Immigration that the Minister has established. Ultimately any decision on this issue would be a matter for Government.     

Please find attached Key Statistics for Non EEA Students.

Non EEA Student Statistics