Migrant Rights Centre Ireland says Education Minister Ruairi Quinn needs to make changes by September to ensure their chances of further study are not lost due to fees of up to three times those charged to other Irish and EU citizens.
The issue affects an estimated 700 Leaving Certificate students a year who came here from non-EU countries to join parents working here legally, and who have been educated in Irish schools.
“They are described as the 1.5 generation, children of the first generation of immigrants who have made Ireland home,” said MRCI community work co-ordinator Helen Lowry. “They’re stuck in a policy gap, created by the political system, between that first generation and a second generation who will have more entitlements because they were born here.
“It’s why so many of them say ‘we’re Irish but not Irish enough’. This is a generation whose potential to contribute so much to Irish society could be lost if action isn’t taken soon.”
For those just finished their Leaving Certificate and hoping their citizenship comes through before September, MRCI said the Department of Justice immigration bureau could help enormously by fast-tracking their applications. This could mean they automatically have free undergraduate education and can apply for grants.
However, more urgently, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn could ease the barriers by directing colleges to take a unified approach on how such students are treated for tuition fees. In addition, current rules mean colleges continue to charge EU or even non-EU fees to students — sometimes up to €20,000 a year — even if they gain citizenship.
“There is immediate provision needed for a mechanism to allow young people who have secured Irish citizenship to reverse their fee status and enjoy the privileges of that citizenship in accordance with the Constitution,” Ms Lowry said.
Mr Quinn’s department told the Irish Examiner in August that he is taking the issue seriously after it was raised at the Labour Party conference earlier last year. At the time, a review of nationality requirements for student grants and free fees was being finalised by his officials.
He still had not received the report from the review up to a week ago. The department said he expects to receive a report shortly and if any changes are planned, they will be announced after a Cabinet decision.