The number of international degree students coming to Ireland has reached a new high but non-European students are reporting difficulties finding employment and accommodation.
New research by the European Migration Network shows the number coming here to study increased by 45% between 2013 and 2017. However, students from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) have reported difficulties with immigration registration delays and accessing employment and accommodation, all of which could undermine Ireland’s attractiveness as a place to study and find post-college employment, according to the study.
Students form the largest category of non-EEA migrants arriving here each year, coming ahead of labour migrants, family members, and other groups. Just over 9,300 first residence permits were issued to higher education students in 2013, increasing to around 13,500 in 2017.
China is the top country of origin of full-time, non-EEA students in State-funded higher education institutions. Malaysia, the US, Canada, India, and Saudi Arabia also featured among the top countries from 2013 to 2016.
The majority of non-EEA students are enrolled in health and welfare courses, representing 31% of all full-time, non-EEA enrolments.
Sarah Groarke, lead author of the report, said Ireland is performing well when it comes to attracting and retaining high level, non-EEA students, but added:
Non-EEA students have reported difficulty finding work because employers are not always aware that they are entitled to work under the third level graduate programme. Ireland allows non-EEA students with an honours degree or higher to remain in the State for 12 to 24 months after studies to look for work under the programme.
This is uncommon among EU countries and is designed to retain highly-skilled international graduates. Almost 2,090 non-EEA students were granted permission to stay under the third level graduate programme in 2017, up from just 650 in 2012.
The number of non-EEA graduates who obtained an employment permit following their studies increased from 48 in 2013 to 871 in 2017. Minimum income thresholds for employment permits were also reported as a barrier for non-EEA graduates seeking employment here.
Immigration registration delays are also a problem for students, who report difficulties scheduling appointments to register or renew their residence permits at the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service.
Students said delays cause stress and anxiety in relation to their legal status and have a negative impact on their academic experience here.