Recruiter calls for visa reform to let overseas students work more

Recruiter says rules limiting work to 20 hours a week are impractical given the rapid increase in housing and other day-to-day costs

Restrictions on student visas are increasingly impractical especially in an era when employers are struggling to source staff, recruiter Excel has said.

The number of overseas students coming to Ireland from countries outside the EU, the UK, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland on the Stamp 2 visa programme has almost doubled to just under 61,000 in the past two years.

While they are allowed to work up to 40 hours a week during the summer and Christmas breaks, they are otherwise restricted to 20 hours a week and are required to show in advance that they have sufficient funds to support their stay in Ireland, where they are barred from accessing social welfare or public health services.

The funds needed – ready access to €10,000 – is a figure that has remained stagnant over the years, Excel says, with no change to reflect the soaring cost of living in the interim.

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The recruiter, which works with many clients in the hospitality and retail sector, said the rules need to be radically overhauled to ensure they are fit for purpose, especially in regard to the amount of money such students must have and the amount of time they are allowed to work outside the college holiday season. Shane McLave, a director at Excel, said there had been no comprehensive review of the rules since the visa was introduced 16 years ago, despite the radical changes in Ireland’s economy and the significant increases in Ireland’s housing, rental and other day-to-day living costs.

Responding recently to a Dáil question from TD Noel Grealish earlier this month, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that while conditions for all immigration permissions were kept “under ongoing review by my Department with all relevant stakeholders, at this time there are no plans to revise the current arrangement for students”.

And she warned that if anyone on a student visa worked more than the hours permitted, “it would amount to a breach of the conditions attached to their immigration permission”.

“By extending the 20-hour visa, international students would, if they so choose, be able to earn more income to maintain a decent standard of living while in Ireland and employers will have more access to staff,” Mr McLave said. “These students could also contribute in a big way to solving our staff shortages – if only our visa system facilitated this.

“While studying is one of the primary requirements for securing a Stamp 2 visa, the reality is that vast swathes of these visa holders need to make money to cover the cost of living in Ireland. Prohibiting these people from working more than 20 hours a week is both needlessly harmful to their own personal financial situation and to the industries that need them in the labour force,” he added.

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times