I wish to assure the Deputy that I understand and recognise the difficulties that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on all immigrants including our international student population. Through their participation in part-time and casual employment in many essential services they have made a valuable contribution during extremely difficult times.
Since March 2020, I have extended immigration permissions on 6 occasions until 20 April 2021. These extensions also apply to those in the State on student permissions. English language students with a current, valid permission who were still in the State and had completed the maximum 2 years permitted as a language student, but due to COVID-19 were unable to return home, were also allowed to remain as students until the end of the year provided they re-enrolled in an online course of study for the remainder of the year.
The conditions attaching to student permissions are kept under ongoing review. Any further extension of permission will be considered in light of NPHET and Government advice in relation to restrictions due to the pandemic.
My Department has responsibility for immigration-related matters, including the entry and residence conditions of non-EEA students. My Department continually consults and engages with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, among other key sectoral stakeholders, in developing policy in this area.
Since April 2001, non-EEA nationals with permission to remain in the State as students, on immigration Stamp 2 permission, and enrolled on courses with education providers listed on the Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP) including English language courses, have been afforded the opportunity to work. This allows non-EEA Students to take up casual employment to supplement their income while studying in Ireland. During term time non-EEA Students can work up to 20 hours per week and during normal college holiday periods non-EEA Students can work on a full time basis up to 40 hours per week. However, all applicants for permission to study in Ireland must show that they have sufficient funds to support their stay in Ireland without recourse to public funds, or the reliance on casual employment.
English language programmes are designed around a principle of progression, with a 2 year maximum permission for English language, consisting of three permissions of 8 months each, attending a 6 month programme during that 8 months and sitting a final exam. If a student has studied English here for 2 years (or more if extensions were provided in 2020) and has achieved the top grade during their English language study, then the next step is to pursue a study permission for higher education or seek some other form of permission to remain in the State.
When English language schools are required to close in response to the pandemic, the requirement that students must be physically present is suspended and language schools are expected to continue courses online for 15 hours per week to ensure students can progress in their studies.