Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Questions (193)

Louise O'Reilly


193. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if consideration will be given to a reversion to the 12 month duration for English language stamp two visas in order to help students who work while studying in English language education schools given all English language education stamp two visas lasted 12 months until 2015 before moving to 8 months. [32397/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Since the Covid-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020, the Minister for Justice has announced extensions to immigration permissions, including for English language students, on a number of occasions. The most recent announcement has extended relevant permissions until 20 September 2021.

The primary purpose of the Stamp 2 immigration permission is to enable non-EEA students to travel to Ireland to avail of educational opportunities and in the case of the sector in question, to study English.

In September 2014, a policy statement entitled “Regulatory Reform of the International Education Sector and the Student Immigration Regime” was launched jointly by the then Minister for Education and Skills and Minister for Justice and Equality. The document contained a series of reforms considered necessary to address significant problems in part of Ireland’s private college sector. During 2014, some 10 colleges closed their doors and over 3,000, mainly non-EEA, students were left without the education programmes for which they had paid. There were concerns as to the level of immigration abuse in the sector at that time, leading to the publication of Reform of the International Education Sector and Student Immigration System, Government Policy Statement, May 2015.

On this basis, a series of reforms to the student immigration system for international education were implemented in 2015. The reforms were designed to drive real and lasting change in the sector and address abuse of the immigration regime and labour market, improve the overall quality of educational offering to international students, and improve protection and supports for learners, whilst safeguarding the strong international reputation of high-quality Irish education providers consistent with the goals of Ireland’s International Education Strategy. One key reform was the introduction of the Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP), a more restrictive list of education programmes eligible for student immigration purposes.

Previously a student studying an English language programme of 25 weeks (375 hours tuition) was granted a full 12 months immigration permission. In 2015 it was agreed that this situation was no longer tenable and was regarded as contributing to some of the problems in the sector. Consequently, the general student permission for attending a 375 hour plus language programme was reduced to 8 months i.e. approximately 34-35 weeks. A non-EEA student can obtain up to three such Stamp 2 permissions studying English Language up to a maximum of two years.

This permission enables Stamp 2 holders to both study and work while in the State subject to the conditions of the Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP) Scheme. Students may take up employment which enables them to work up to 20 hours a week during the traditional academic term and up to 40 hours a week during designated holiday periods. These holiday periods have been standardised as the 1st June to 31st September and the 15th December to 15th January of each year. Therefore, under current conditions, ELE students who hold a Stamp 2 immigration permission can now work in Ireland for up to 40 hours per week until the end of September.

The Department understands from engagement with provider representatives that the majority of English language students enrol on 25 week programmes that predominately operate outside of the designated holiday periods therefore facilitating their ability to work fulltime over holiday periods. However, where students have enrolled on programmes scheduled during these periods, students are obliged to continue to meet their attendance requirements, aligned with conditions for ILEP.

The planned establishment of the International Education Mark is intended to underpin a high quality ELE sector in Ireland that safeguards the interests of students and ensures that that the educational function of the ELE sector which is the teaching and learning of valuable English language proficiency is the mainstay of its future direction consistent with the objectives of the 2015 reforms.