It’s no secret international students are burdened by considerable expenses. High tuition is just one obstacle: travel costs, immigration fees and insurance premiums compound into a sizeable hurdle for many. The Health Insurance Authority’s classification of non-European Economic Area students as ‘ordinarily resident’ exacerbates this pecuniary struggle.
Understandably, all non-EEA students must provide proof of health insurance to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service. Until recently, travel insurance plans sourced in home countries were accepted during all years of study. In 2020, the Court of Appeal upheld the HIA’s definition of non-EEA students as ‘ordinarily resident.’ Consequentially, this decision imposes non-EEA students to source health insurance from the private Irish market upon entering their second year of study. The Irish market regulated by the HIA sells policies considerably more expensive and sometimes less inclusive than travel insurance plans.
International students are not happy with this extra financial encumbrance, and neither are members of the Oireachtas. In fact, a Private Members’ Bill introduced in the Seanad in March 2021 aims to tackle this matter. Senators Malcolm Byrne, Lisa Chambers and Shane Cassells initiated the Health Insurance (International Students) (Amendment) Bill 2021, which would declassify international students as ‘ordinarily resident’ for health insurance purposes. NUI Galway Students’ Union supports this Bill, as does the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).
Frankly, the Bill stagnated in the Seanad and more needs to be done quickly. NUI Galway has the power to redress this burden imposed on its students by providing a group insurance plan, like the one provided at Trinity College Dublin. At TCD, non-EEA students may avail of a group policy that covers pre-existing conditions and waives normal waiting periods. If NUI Galway adopts a similar scheme, our university may be recognised as an academic institution that truly supports its international student population.
NUI Galway administrators must act swiftly to implement an international student group insurance scheme before matriculation in 2022. Increased costs are a deterrent to education in Ireland, but NUI Galway has an opportunity to offer a more attractive student experience in Connacht.