Eligible Chinese students meanwhile will have to provide fewer documents and will have their applications expedited by the Irish Embassy in Beijing.
David O’Grady, CEO of MEI, told The PIE News: “We started in 2011 with a pilot scheme to allow university students from Turkey to come to MEI schools. Because of the success of that, and having established a kind of process, we then transferred it to China and adapted the model a bit.”
“Since the financial crisis hit, enrolments have all but dried up”
The new scheme could revitalise China ties for MEI schools, which cater to 90% of Ireland’s ELT students – some 98,000 last year. Around 10-12 years ago, there was a big Chinese market in Ireland but many used the student visa system as a channel to find employment. This led to a curb on visa issuance, and since the financial crisis hit, enrolments have all but dried up.
“There’s no reason why there can’t be business from China, and there’s no reason why any of that should be dodgy,” said O’Grady.
He said the results would not be immediate given Ireland’s low profile in China, but expected a “long-term project” that paved the way for future business (much like the Turkey scheme which saw lower than expected uptake but was well received by students, schools and agents).
To avoid repeating patterns of visa fraud, the China scheme will only be open to students aged 18-30 who have just finished high school or university and are “professionally minded”.
Some 25 Chinese agencies have signed up and all are big operators
Agents participating will be chosen on their track record of sending students to other countries and closely vetted by the Irish Embassy in Beijing. Some 25 have signed up and all are big operators handling considerable student volumes.
“We will show that process of applying for a visa is not as cumbersome as other countries, we hope,” said O’Grady. “And then we can convince the students that the quality of Irish programmes and schools is as good as it is anywhere.”
A spokesperson at the Department of Justice said that the pilot project had been developed in the context of the New Immigration Regime for Full Time Non-EEA Students and Investing in Global Relationships, Ireland’s International Education Strategy 2010-15, which sets out how Ireland’s competitive position as a centre of international education can be enhanced.
“This pilot project is designed to boost the profile of Ireland’s English language education industry and significantly contribute to the development of Ireland’s reputation as a premier destination for Chinese students to achieve a high standard in English language education,” said the spokesperson.
They added that the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service “is open to considering proposals for similar pilot schemes in strategically important countries” as defined in the international education strategy.