Campaign groups say that residency stamps issued by the immigration system to these children when they turn 16 do not reflect the realities of young people who have come here to join their parents, and cause problems securing long-term residency and citizenship. As a result, according to Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), their parents can face costs that are three times those of Irish students, even though they may have spent most of their lives in this country.
The issue was raised at the Labour Party conference in April and a spokesperson for the minister said he was concerned at the situation.
“The minister requested his department to review the situation and this review of the nationality requirements for student grant purposes is being finalised by officials and is due to be submitted to the minister shortly.”
The issue could be addressed through changes to the grants system, which includes a category of grants to cover tuition fees for students not covered by the free fees scheme available to Irish and EU students.
An obstacle to making changes could be the uncertainty about how many might be affected. Although CAO figures show there were just under 400 non-EU applicants for college places this year, the actual numbers affected are unclear as hundreds, or even thousands, might simply not be applying for college because of the financial restrictions.
MRCI said it was working with more than 140 families, and young people who have come to join their families here and have been living here for at least three years, should enjoy equal access to third-level education.
“We believe a solution exists within our education system which requires a re-examination of the criteria of access to financial assistance for higher education and the application of a standard residency test in third-level institutions,” said MRCI community work co-ordinator Helen Lowry.
Part of the trouble is that different colleges treat students differently, some charging the full tuition cost, and others applying educed rates.
“In the longer term, passage of a comprehensive immigration, residence and protection bill is needed to guarantee rights and pathways of permanent residency and citizenship to young migrants in this situation,” said Ms Lowry.