Ireland has an excellent international reputation for the quality of education services delivered to both our own citizens and those who come here from abroad.
Thousands of students from Europe and the rest of the world come here each year to develop their language skills in the many excellent language schools of which we can be justifiably proud.
As Minister for Justice, I am strongly committed to making sure that our immigration system supports Ireland’s economic development.
International education is a high value services industry. This requires we give a fair wind to genuine education providers to recruit students. However I have to be satisfied that the service we are selling is quality education rather that immigration permission. At present, in respect to certain parts of the industry, I am simply not satisfied that this is the case.
Since 2010 a number of significant improvements have been made to the immigration and regulatory framework in which the international education sector operates.
However, the recent closures of some private sector colleges have highlighted some alarming practices within certain parts of the sector.
These practices, if left unaddressed, have the potential to negatively affect the integrity of both the international education system and the immigration system.
In particular, it would seem that there were those who were abusing the student immigration system to access the labour market.
Immigration abuse will not be tolerated.
This applies to both colleges and the students; and the message must be very clear:
• If your college seeks to abuse our immigration system there is no future for you;
• If you are a student who is abusing the system, you cannot expect to remain.
In the past we have had a situation where the industry was too open to exploitation.
The measures we are bringing in today will go a long way towards addressing that and will give us a regime in which inspections can be made more effective and focussed.
A strengthened and more integrated inspection regime will be put in place to monitor quality assurance and immigration compliance in the international education sector. This will include coordinated inspections by various State Agencies QQI, INIS GNIB etc.
The student work concession will be restricted whereby students can only work full time during designated months, essentially aligning the work concession with the traditional academic year. This reform will make it easier for employers and will also remove the capacity for institutions to tailor their timetables to maximise work opportunities.
These reforms may result in some colleges losing the ability to recruit international students. Nonetheless we are confident that the reforms are necessary and will underpin the quality of the international education system and protect the interests of international students.
This is the bigger picture – we cannot and will not allow our reputation as a quality destination for international reputation to be tarnished. Neither will we compromise the integrity of the immigration system.
I welcome the report of the Taskforce and the accommodation for affected students that has been put in place. At the time of the college closures, my own Department extended assurances to all affected international students that their immigration permissions would be protected until 1 September 2014.
This gave the Task force the time it needed to develop reasonable accommodations for the students in consultation with key representative bodies of private education providers in Ireland.
I believe that the solutions agreed and implemented by the Task Force build upon a pragmatic and compassionate approach and offer genuine international students an excellent opportunity to study, at a discount, in quality assured colleges with proper learner protection arrangements.
However, as we are now past the 1 September threshold, I would urge all affected international students to ensure that they are enrolled on an appropriate education programme.
The student task force website provides detailed guidance for those students who still require an alternative education option and students should do so as soon as possible.
I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to Marketing English in Ireland (MEI) and the Higher Education Colleges Association (HECA) for their commitment in developing a solution for affected international students. These organisations underpin what high quality Irish education is all about.
I am also very grateful for the considerable work carried out by the Irish Council for Overseas Students (ICOS). ICOS have made a major contribution in facilitating affected students with assistance in addressing their immigration situation and in finding alternative education accommodation. All organisations have made a considerable contribution to the work of the Task Force.
Let me finish by stating that Ireland welcomes international students. We want to provide them with a high quality educational experience that will contribute to their personal and professional development. These reforms are a fundamental element of our commitment to delivering that experience.
2 September 2014