The recent change to Ireland’s re-entry visa process, namely the discontinuation of the online appointment system, unnecessarily re-complicates a system that until now, was moving in the right direction. It reflects a fundamental misjudgement on the part of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), and could have a knock-on effect for Ireland’s recruitment capabilities.
Effective on September 3rd, international students not holding EU passports will now only be able to obtain required re-entry visas by way of postal application. Previously, individuals were able to book in-person appointments online, a process that, at least on the surface level, was working sufficiently. Whilst some frustrations were present, namely that the daily release of appointments were almost immediately snapped up as soon as they went online, overall no real dissatisfaction existed with the system. Since the change, however, students have already voiced opposition to the decision, and rightly so, as it has seemingly taken a step back from a structure that was introduced as recently as 2016.
To start with, the new system, which now requires applicants to forfeit their passport for the five to six weeks prior to their travel, is inexplicably inefficient. Perhaps one of the biggest faults is that it completely misses the mark of what it is required for. The change in 2016 was designed to alleviate demand and pressure from excessive queues at the Burgh Quay immigration office. However, by reverting back to a system that fails to control the number of applications that require processing per day, pressure on the immigration office will no doubt increase during peak travel times, as internationals are free to submit applications as they desire. It is no surprise then that individuals have been warned that the processing time is expected to increase beyond the allocated six weeks.
It isn’t hard to imagine a student that is mulling over offers from various countries electing not to come to Ireland if they are then unable to enjoy the freedoms (and with that, the ability to leave) that come with being a student
Additionally, it fails to account for situations where emergency travel is necessary. While urgent appointments are still available online for a very select category of emergencies, those that have already forfeited their passport are unable to have it returned until the process is finished, a decision that seems beyond bizarre and in direct contrast to Ireland and the EU’s attitude towards mobility. Even the fact that students and international residents will be required to forfeit what is arguably their most vital identification document for that duration of time is bewildering.
Even if the immigration service was discontent with the way in which the previous system was running, the excuse of there being a lack of alternatives doesn’t apply in this case. It’s not as though better options don’t exist. China, for example, one of the most notoriously strict countries for visa restrictions, offers multi-year re-entry visas for travellers in a process that takes just over two weeks. Looking across the Irish sea to the UK, registered students are able to apply for a Biometric Residence Permit that allows for travel and proof of the individual’s immigration status. Those that are yet to register can still even obtain temporary visas that are also multiple entry. Why one of those two systems couldn’t be similarly established for internationals is unknown to me.
In the wake of Brexit and the uncertainty clouding the UK, there is an opportunity for Ireland to boost its attraction to international students given its continued existence in the EU
Overall, the new system, if not addressed soon, could hinder Ireland’s universities ability to recruit international students. Whilst this change is seemingly only a minor logistical inconvenience, and doesn’t affect the number of international students Irish universities are allowed to enrol, it could dissuade students from selecting Ireland altogether. It isn’t hard to imagine a student that is mulling over offers from various countries electing not to come to Ireland if they are then unable to enjoy the freedoms (and with that, the ability to leave) that come with being a student.
In the wake of Brexit and the uncertainty clouding the UK, there is an opportunity for Ireland to boost its attraction to international students given its continued existence in the EU. It therefore seems unwise to change a process to something that will only aggravate international students, and potentially hamper any advantage they had over Britain’s universities in terms of future appeal. For this reason, despite only taking effect on September 3rd, the new reform to the re-entry visa process needs correcting immediately as it worsens a process that, until now, required no meddling with.