Some are opting to return home without completing their courses or transferring to other countries because they couldn’t find, or afford, a place to live.
One student, who spoke to the, recently spent two nights sleeping on the streets in Cork city centre because the hostel he had been staying in was booked out for a weekend. Sebastian Carvallo Farina, from Chile, is now couch surfing.
Another student in Dublin bought an old car for €800 to sleep in because it was her only option. She is now sleeping on a couch in the home of an acquaintance.
Students across the third-level sector have been hit by the perfect storm of rising rents, a shortage of accommodation, Covid, and the soaring cost of living, with student welfare groups reporting that hundreds were deferring until next year.
But the accommodation crisis is hitting international students hardest. A study in February by the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS) found half of students are sharing a room with three or more people. One in 10 are forced to share a room with six or more people. Only one in 10 had their own room.
The latest rent report from Daft for the first quarter of 2022 found there were fewer than 1,400 properties to rent nationally at the beginning of February. In Dublin, there were just 712 properties available, the lowest level since Daft’s records began in 2006.
The number of properties was also at an all-time low in Munster. The average rent on Daft was €1,524 nationally at the end of 2021, a rise of more than 10% over the year.
According to the Department of Justice, 11,747 visas were granted last year for courses including secondary level, English language, and third-level courses up to and including PhD. This was up from 7,821 in 2020, when such courses were heavily hit by the pandemic. In 2019, the year prior to the pandemic, 17,217 such visas were granted. Up to the end of March this year, 2,662 visas were granted.
In response to a parliamentary question, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said a person seeking a visa to study English is not required to have proof of secure accommodation to make an application.
Social Democrats co-leader and justice spokeswoman Catherine Murphy said finding somewhere to stay is becoming a “nightmare” for international students:
"We are perceived as a first world country and it is taking people by surprise that one of the most basic needs of people — the need to have shelter — is not available or affordable.
“It ends up being a huge nightmare to find somewhere to stay and much more expensive than they would have anticipated.
“Once people have made the commitment to come here, they have already made a very large financial commitment and life commitment and it is very difficult to row back from it.”
ICOS executive director Laura Harmon said international students are more vulnerable as they often arrive in Ireland with little knowledge of the rental market landscape, meaning they run a higher risk of being scammed or exploited.
“Rising rents and a lack of available properties to rent forces many students to live in overcrowded accommodation,” said Ms Harmon.
"We urgently need a review and overhaul of current legislation on overcrowding, which dates from 1966 and is no longer fit for purpose. "
English-language schools are appealing for families to come forward to host students, especially during the summer months.
Nico Dowling, owner and director of Atlas English language school in Dublin, said a number of students have transferred to the school’s sister college in Malta, where pressures on accommodation are not as severe.
Green Party housing spokesman, and Oireachtas housing committee chairman, Steven Matthews, said the pressures on accommodation here are increasing as a result of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, as “we do have an obligation to provide Ukrainian residents with a good quality, longer term accommodation, which will not be an easy task either.”