The reform has been spurred by the closure of a number of colleges amid a visa probe in the wake of a Sunday Times investigation in April that revealed some schools had violated visa regulations by falsifying attendance records, impacting some 2,000 international students.
“We cannot let our international reputation be damaged by low-quality provision or rogue operators”
As of January 1, only programmes that are accredited by Irish awarding bodies will be listed on the new Interim List of Eligible Programmes for Student Immigration Permission (ILEP) while a new International Education Mark (IEM) is being rolled out, with a few specific exceptions.
They must also be approved by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), who must be “fully satisfied that the owner, directors, managers and administrators of the provider in question are entirely above board as regards their past immigration conduct as well as the financial probity of previous ventures with which they have been associated,” a policy document states.
Programmes that fail to make the cut will be allowed to teach out current students and to recruit new students who will commence their studies before January 1, but will not be allowed to re-apply to the register once they have been removed.
An enhanced inspection process, which includes unannounced inspections, will be put in place for INIS and the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) to ensure that students are complying with regulations and attendance monitoring is robust and verifiable.
In a move to clamp down on the abuse of student visas in the labour market, students will only be allowed to work 40 hours a week during the months of May, June, July and August and from 15 December to 15 January inclusive irrespective of providers, in line with the traditional academic year.
Until now students have been allowed to work 40 hours per week during holidays as set by the provider, which according to a Task Force established in May to help students affected by the college closures, makes state monitoring more difficult.
“These new proposals will give genuine educators ownership of the process of educating international students”
The revamp will help to protect international students by supporting quality providers and making it more difficult for bogus colleges to operate, according to Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, who are spearheading the initiative.
“We cannot let our international reputation be damaged by low-quality provision or rogue operators,” O’Sullivan said. “These reforms are crucial to ensuring that only those providers which can offer the highest standards can attract international students.”
The move has been praised by Marketing English in Ireland (MEI), which represents 54 of the country’s ACELS-accredited English language schools.
“The results of the implementation of these proposals should greatly restore the reputational damage inflicted on us by organisations indifferent to the needs of international students or to the requirements of international education,” Oliver Lyons, MEI Chair, told The PIE News.
“These new proposals will give genuine educators ownership of the process of educating international students, and will give genuine students a fair regulatory framework which will protect their interest,” he added.