No such analyses are currently underway.
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.
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. To pursue their studies, English language students can avail of up to three Stamp 2 immigration permissions, each of 8 months duration, to a maximum of two years. As part of each 8 month permission, a student enrols on an English language programme which meets the requirements of the Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP), which is at least 25 weeks in duration and which provides a minimum of 15 classroom tuition hours per week led by an appropriately qualified teacher. The class attendance requirements linked to this permission are key to underpinning the integrity of English language provision.
While primarily for the purpose of study, this permission also allows Stamp 2 holders to work while in the State subject to clearly stated conditions. Students may take up employment which enables them to work up to 20 hours a week during term time and up to 40 hours a week during designated holiday periods.
Following the initial outbreak of Covid-19, it was recognised that English language students may be particularly vulnerable and face a distinct set of issues arising from the pandemic. These issues include a language barrier when accessing information, concerns surrounding their immigration conditions and the potential loss of employment. In March 2020, my Department established a specific Working Group for the English language education (ELE) sector to address these issues. This group is comprised of the sectoral representatives of students, staff and providers alongside representatives of relevant Government Departments such as the Department of Justice, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Social Protection. It has met 12 times to date.
In the course of its work, this Working Group has published and enabled the dissemination of material for students to provide information on health advice, updates on new immigration measures as they have been introduced, and to advise them of their eligibility to apply for relevant social protection supports such as the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment. In its engagements to date, the Working Group has also addressed questions surrounding access to Government services such as Personal Public Service Numbers (PPSNs) for students and clarified public health advice and supports for students who may reside in accommodation where social distancing and self-isolation may be challenging or not possible.
In relation to the loss of employment, the key social protection measure that is available to ELE students is the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP). The PUP was introduced by Government and made available to employees and the self-employed who lost their job on or after 13 March 2020. ELE students and their representative bodies have been advised of the details of the PUP scheme alongside their eligibility to apply for it. In addition to the PUP, and in exceptional circumstances, ELE student have also been advised where they are experiencing a financial need that they cannot meet out of their weekly income they are also eligible to apply for the Exceptional Needs Payment which is available via the Department of Social Protection.
Clarity surrounding the immigration permissions of ELE students has also been provided by the Department of Justice. As the pandemic has developed and evolved, a number of updates in respect of the status of immigration permissions for International Students have been announced. The most recent update was provided in March 2021 announcing that relevant permissions are being automatically extended to 20 September 2021 including for English language students. The conditions attached to these renewed permissions are unchanged. Therefore, ELE students may take up or continue employment on the same basis as before.
Student welfare has been the key driver of my Department’s response to the pandemic to date and my officials will continue to engage with ELE students representatives, via the ELE Working Group, to focus on student issues as this sector prepares to move towards the resumption of in-person activity, in line with public health guidelines, when it is safe to do so.
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.