Members of the College community expressed concerns to the government this week on behalf of the many international students who remain unable to renew their visas. This reveals something of the scale of the bureaucracy that non-EU students must cut through in securing their immigration status in the country. Despite system reforms allowing online booking for appointments with the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), removing the interminable queues on Burgh Quay, delays are still endemic. International students are struggling not only to have their visas renewed for the new academic year, but also gain permission for re-entry to allow them to return home over the imminent Christmas break.
It is tempting to look to the frustrating and lengthy procedures and delays that constitute Trinity’s bureaucracy as the source of the troubling uncertainty facing students from countries outside the EU. However, this problem is one that is very much outside of the College’s control. Whatever they can do to streamline their own processing of applications, the regulation of Ireland’s borders and who has permission to enter and exit the country is always going to be firmly in the hands of the government.
It is somewhat strange, therefore, to find the government so ardently promoting the country as a destination for international students – perhaps due to the essential role they play in filling the haemorrhaging gap in Irish higher education funding. Indeed, the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, stated in October that his goal is to increase the number of international students at Irish universities and language schools by 37,000 before 2020.
It is disappointing that the government, while seeking to attract more and more students to the country and pushing universities to participate in this project, has failed to establish a moderately efficient system of immigration registration to accommodate this increase. The delays that now frustrate the routine plans of international students can only increase if the government remains determined to fulfil its plans without reorganising and expanding the capacity of its bureaucracy.