237. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of non-EU student visas issued in 2017 and 2018; the average length of time it has taken to process these visas; his plans to improve the system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10760/19]


Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I am advised by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department that decisions regarding the grant or refusal of study visas are made in a number of INIS Visa Offices overseas and the Visa Office in Dublin.  
11,407 study visas were approved in 2017, and 11,443 in 2018.  This represents an overall approval rate (the number of successful applications out of the total number of applications) of 86.1% and 88.8% for each year respectively.
The processing time at each office and location worldwide is determined by a number of factors such as the volume and complexity of applications, the completeness and sufficiency of information or documentation provided by the applicant, whether investigation is required or not, individual circumstances, peak application periods, seasonal factors, and the resources available.  While every effort is made to process applications as quickly as possible, processing times inevitably vary as a result. 
The current time for processing study visa applications in the Dublin Visa Office for example is around 4 weeks. Processing times for other Visa Offices vary but are generally within this time-frame also.
More generally, a number of measures have been put in place to deal with the increased demand for visas to come to Ireland.  This has included the assignment of additional staff to help process applications, and the streamlining of visa processes where possible.  In addition, there is regular engagement between INIS and the education sector on student visa requirements and what can mutually be done to improve the processing time with particular attention being paid to peak demand during the busy summer period.
The central concern in deciding on visa applications, as with all visa services worldwide, is to strike an appropriate balance between protecting the country's vital national interests by maintaining an effective immigration regime while at the same time facilitating travel for those who meet the criteria.  Each visa application is therefore decided on its own merits taking all factors into account.