Children of non-EU nationals facing huge college fees


CHILDREN OF non-EU nationals faced with huge bills for third-level education will be forced to turn down and defer college places when the CAO first-round offers come out on Monday, according to the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI).

Despite having lived here for many years, some students find themselves without enough time to qualify as Irish citizens before they are due to start college and, as a result, have to pay fees three times higher than those facing their Irish classmates.

There are currently more than 140 families affected, according to the MRCI’s Migrant Education Access campaign.

“These are bright, ambitious young people who have come here to join their parents.

“They see Ireland as their home and yet we have an immigration system that never properly provided for their arrival and an education system that is virtually inaccessible,” said Helen Lowry, community work co-ordinator at the migrants rights centre.

Ms Lowry said there was currently no residency category that suits the needs of children who travelled to Ireland to join their parents.

When, at the age of 16, they apply for residency status, they are frequently given residency stamps that classify them as foreign students or foreign workers.

“Those labels just aren’t appropriate,” Ms Lowry said.

“The system hasn’t evolved to take this category of young people, those who travelled to join their parents, into account.”

Some students qualify for citizenship through their parents, but many are almost 18 by the time their parents become citizens and must apply on their own merits. For many, the application window is too narrow to allow them qualify in time for college.

Without citizenship they do not qualify for the free fees scheme or higher-education grants.

“At the moment, the system does not have a simple pathway to permanency for these students,” Ms Lowry said. “They are being penalised for what is essentially a systemic problem.”

However, the situation has improved in recent years.

Third-level institutions offer some acknowledgment of residency if a student has lived in an European Union country for at least three out of the last five years by charging fees at EU rather than non-EU rates.

While EU fees are lower, they still amount to three times the amount Irish students pay.

Ms Lowry called on the Government to address the issue. “We feel that young people who have come to Ireland to join their families and are here a minimum of three years should enjoy equality of access to third-level education,” she said. “By denying these students access and support, Irish society is losing out on what they can offer.”