News and Current Affairs Editor
International students in Ireland have launched a petition addressed to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, calling on her to improve the Covid-19 response to international students who moved to Ireland for University in September. According to the petition, “International students have not been adequately considered in Ireland’s Covid-19 response” and that students who moved to Ireland from other countries have faced a myriad of problems because of this.
The petition claims that “due to closed immigration offices, some students have remained stuck in Ireland for months, with unanswered emails and calls to INIS and University Immigration Offices” among other problems. As well as this, there have also been reports of passports being lost in the mail due to an online renewal system that requires applicants to mail in their passports, or in some cases, it has been held up to 3 months after it was mailed in.
Despite permission extensions, a valid up-to-date residence card is required to allow most non-EU international students to exit and re–enter the country. These delays have meant some students have they not been able to return home to care for sick family members or say goodbye to dying loved ones for fear of not being allowed to return. According to the petition, “heart-breaking stories of isolation, frustration, and loss currently fill the international student community.”
In addition, the petition describes a recent ruling by the Court of Appeals, classifying international students who reside in Ireland for more than one year as “Ordinary Residents,” as “putting considerable financial burden on international students.”
Despite bringing in some 400 million euros to the Irish economy, the petition states that international students are already required to pay 300 euros per year out of their own pockets for residency cards that must be renewed yearly. This ruling now additionally requires international students to purchase health insurance for immigration purposes costing 600+ euros per year. “It is illogical and excessive to classify students as Ordinary Residents and expect a yearly renewal fee – especially when students (Stamp 2) can’t avail of social service benefits,” the petition says.
A spokesperson for the group spoke to SIN about the troubles facing international students in Ireland,
“Before COVID, international students in Ireland were already facing challenges, and the pandemic has further worsened them.
“Currently, non-EU students outside of Dublin have been facing immigration backlogs for months. Those within Dublin – where a partly online system is available – have had the passports they mailed in for renewal lost. This has meant that many are unable to travel home for emergencies, for the holiday break, or to study remotely because they cannot enter without a valid residency card. Some students, especially postgrads, have been stuck in Ireland since March. In addition, a recent ruling by the court of appeals classifying international students as ordinary residents has resulted in a health insurance hike of 150 to 600+ euros per year, a 400% increase, in the middle of a pandemic.
They also spoke of the disparity in supports received by Irish students and their counterparts from outside of Ireland, particularly in terms of lack of access to University schemes and supports such a NUI Galway’s recent laptop loan scheme
“In general, international students don’t have access to proper supports through their universities. For example, the recently announced laptop loan scheme (NUIG) and emergency fund are not available to international students. The 250 euro assistance is also not available to non-EU international students. Furthermore, students regularly struggle to find housing in an increasingly costly markets. And, while many students would like to work to gain valuable experience during their education, securing employment as an international student is almost impossible.
“To rectify these issues, we believe that Irish HEIs and relevant government departments should work quickly to implement a fully online immigration renewal system and declassify international students as ordinary residents. We’re asking our neighbours to advocate, though our petition, for further support for international students, and by extension, Irish students as well. We don’t contest the value of an Irish education and are pleased to benefit from the experts we are able to learn from here. But this pandemic has highlighted how precarious our position is and the reputation of Ireland as a welcoming country is at stake.”
The petition is calling on Minister McEntee to amend the following in Ireland’s Covid-19 response to International students:
Resolve the immigration appointment and application backlogs
This could be accomplished through the implementation of a fast, secure, country-wide, fully online renewal process. To avoid passports being lost or held for excessive periods of time, this could be accomplished via a “sticker system,” whereby applicants submit their details online and are issued a “sticker” in the mail that makes their permit valid until the COVID crisis is over.
In addition to the online “sticker system,” issuing residence permits for non-EU students that last for the duration of a student’s study, as done in the United States and the Netherlands (for example), would help improve the situation; additionally, removing the yearly renewal process would help with the immigration appointment backlogs. As non-EU students are already under an obligation to report and change in details, and can only work 20 hours per week and thus would be unable to support themselves financially in Ireland’s high cost of living, there is little risk of these students using their residency cards to stay in Ireland under false pretences. In addition, these issues have been addressed through simple mechanisms already done in other EU countries.
Re-classify international students to avoid unreasonable healthcare costs
Under no circumstances should students be forced to pay healthcare costs of 600+ euros following the Court of Appeal ruling. We therefore request that international students be declassified as Ordinary Residents.
Consider international students when making policy decisions
Take care to consider issues concerning international students when making future decisions regarding residency, visas, GNIB, health, housing, and the overall Covid response, to prevent further issues from arising.