Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the changes she is proposing to the working holiday arrangements of international students while they are studying English; her views that reducing such working holiday arrangements would aversely affect the competitive advantage enjoyed by these schools when attracting international students; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20614/15]
521. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will provide an update on the situation of language schools (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20629/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I propose to take Questions Nos. 469 and 521 together.
Based on proposals I brought forward in tandem with my colleague the Minister for Education and Skills the Government has approved the implementation of a series of reforms to the student immigration system for international education, in response to concerning practices within certain parts of the sector and a number of English language college closures. The reforms are designed to drive real, lasting change in the sector and will tackle abuse of the immigration regime and labour market, improve the overall quality of offering to international students, and improve protection for learners, whilst safeguarding the strong international reputation of high-quality Irish education providers in line with the goals of Ireland’s International Education Strategy.
The adjustment to the working hours arrangements of international students is an integral part of the overall reform of this sector which balances the interests of legitimate operators with necessary protection of students and of Ireland's international reputation.
The key reforms include:
- In relation to higher education programmes, only programmes which are accredited by Irish awarding bodies, or those accredited by universities in the EU that meet quality assurance standards comparable to those of Irish accredited programmes, will be permitted to recruit international students, with a few specific exceptions.
- With regard to English language programmes, only those providers who can demonstrate that they have reached an acceptable quality standard will be permitted to appear on the list from 1 October 2015. They are being given an opportunity to do that.
- The standard 12 months immigration permission for the purposes of attending a 25 week English language programme is being reduced to 8 months with effect from 1 October 2015. Students will still be permitted 3 such permissions and there will be no reduction in overall tuition.
- All institutions will have to comply with new requirements including a clear declaration of ownership, shadow directors, physical infrastructure and teaching capacity.
- A number of measures designed to protect students are being introduced including compulsory learner protection arrangements and a separate account facility to safeguard student advance payments.
As part of this reform process the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration of my Department and the Garda National Immigration Bureau are working closely together to further enhance the inspection regime in respect of colleges seeking to recruit non-EEA students.