Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Questions (368)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

368. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the work being carried out to support English language students here; if he has considered the suspension of student visas until September 2020 or such a point when face-to-face classes can be resumed; if he has considered a guarantee that time lost due to school closures will not count towards the total number of months permitted under a student visa; and if attendance at online classes will not be a visa requirement. [8090/20]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Deputy may be aware that, on 13 May 2020, I announced that immigration permissions due to expire between 20 May and 20 July 2020 will be automatically extended for two months. Any permission, including student permission, which was renewed by the earlier notice of 20 March 2020 and which therefore had a new expiry date between 20 May 2020 and 20 July 2020 is also renewed, provided the person otherwise meets the conditions set out in the notices. This exceptional temporary measure also applies to non-nationals currently outside the State.

The extension means that students may continue to work if they wish, but must also re-enrol in an on-line course of study to adhere to the conditions of their permission. The renewal of a permission is on the same basis as the existing permission and the same conditions attach. This means, for instance, that students will need to ensure that they remain enrolled on their course of study.

My Department has engaged with MEI (Marketing English in Ireland), the representative body for the majority of language schools in Ireland. MEI have confirmed that most colleges are now offering on-line courses, and students should contact their college directly to make any necessary arrangements.

I wish to assure the Deputy that I understand and recognise the difficulties that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on all immigrants, and in particular our international student population.

I announced yesterday, 26 May, that students who are still in the State and who have completed their maximum 2 years language study, but due to COVID-19 are unable to return home at this time, may remain as students until the end of the year provided they re-enrol in an online course of study for the remainder of the year. They will have to register the permission as usual once the Registration Offices reopen.

I also announced that language students who left the State before completion of their studies due to COVID-19, may resume their studies and the duration of their absence will not count towards the maximum period of study allowed.

I hope these new measures will provide some welcome assurance and certainty for the coming months and we will continue to keep the situation under active review as matters evolve in our national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These new measures are in addition to the previously announced, temporary arrangements put in place for students awaiting first time registrations, students who wish to change their permission and students who wish to avail of the Third Level Graduate Programme.

In previous announcements I also amended the rules around working hours and provided that where a school or college is physically closed due to COVID-19 students can work 40 hours per week instead of the previous 20 hours. However, as I announced on 13 May, it is a requirement that anyone seeking to remain in the State as a student has to re-enrol in an online course of study.

It should be noted that visa required students will be required to apply for a visa before returning to the State if the validity period of the visa has expired. While the Immigration Service has temporarily ceased accepting new visa applications, persons legally resident in the State are included in the categories of Priority/Emergency cases, which will continue to be processed. Visa required students are advised to consult the Immigration Service website for the required documentation - www.inis.gov.ie.

Additionally, my Department is considering alternative arrangements for renewal of registrations and priority will be given initially to those whose Irish Residence Permit (IRP) card has expired. Further updates will be provided on the Immigration Service website when available, and I would encourage all students to regularly consult our updates on the Immigration Service website at:

http://www.inis.gov.ie/en/INIS/Pages/COVID-19-updates-and-announcements.

A detailed Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document is available on this website on the impact of COVID-19 on immigration and international protection. This document is regularly updated.