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25 May, 2015 - Ministers O’Sullivan and Fitzgerald announce Government approval of reforms to the student immigration system for international education

The Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan TD, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD, today announced that the Government has approved the implementation of a series of reforms to the student immigration system for international education, in response to concerning practices within certain parts of the sector and a number of English language college closures.

The reforms are designed to drive real, lasting change in the sector and will tackle abuse of the immigration regime and labour market, improve the overall quality of offering to international students, and improve protection for learners, whilst safeguarding the strong international reputation of high-quality Irish education providers in line with the goals of Ireland’s International Education Strategy.

The new regulations and the schedule for implementation are set out in the Policy Statement “Reform of the International Education Sector and Student Immigration System”.

The key reforms include:

·        A much more restrictive list of education programmes eligible for student immigration purposes. Further education and vocational education and training programmes will no longer feature on the list from 1st June 2015. This change was first signalled in September 2014.

·        In relation to higher education programmes, only programmes which are accredited by Irish awarding bodies, or those accredited by universities in the EU that meet quality assurance standards comparable to those of Irish accredited programmes, will be permitted to recruit international students, with a few specific exceptions.

·        With regard to English language programmes, only those providers who can demonstrate that they have reached an acceptable quality standard will be permitted to appear on the list from 1st October 2015. They are being given an opportunity to do that.

·        The standard 12 months immigration permission for the purposes of attending a 25 week English language programme is being reduced to 8 months with effect from 1st October 2015. Students will still be permitted 3 such permissions and there will be no reduction in overall tuition. 

·        All institutions will have to comply with new requirements including a clear declaration of ownership, shadow directors, physical infrastructure and teaching capacity.

·        A number of measures designed to protect students are being introduced including compulsory learner protection arrangements and a separate account facility to safeguard student advance payments.

Minister O’Sullivan said: “Ireland’s international education sector is founded on the quality of Irish higher education and our strong track record in delivering quality-assured English language programmes to overseas students. That sector must be driven by quality in the areas of programme delivery, student experience and governance. This can only happen when that part of the sector that has manifestly failed to perform in this manner has ceased or fundamentally reformed its practice.  

“This is in the interests of all of those providers who have sought to maintain high standards. It is ultimately also in the interest of genuine students who come to Ireland for an excellent educational experience. These new regulations, when fully implemented, will ensure that overarching and comprehensive immigration and quality assurance processes are in place for the delivery of international education in the State and will significantly contribute to maintaining and enhancing Ireland’s reputation as a high quality destination for international students.”

Minister Fitzgerald said: “It is clear that there have been businesses operating in this sector who were solely interested in facilitating immigration and not in providing quality education.  Regrettably, we have seen a number of sudden college closures resulting in students losing their courses and the monies they’ve paid, as well as teachers and staff going unpaid. We have also seen blatant abuses of our immigration system.

“Retaining the status quo is simply not an option. We are working to ensure that ‘visa factories’ and the people who run them have no place in Irish education.

“The latest reforms and new regulations approved by Government, built on those announced last year and will introduce further new standards and safeguards to support the continued growth of a high-quality international education sector and to protect genuine students, legitimate operators and Ireland’s reputation.” 

“There is a bright future for this sector if high standards become the norm. It is now up to the sector to demonstrate that it can reach the standards set by these new regulations.”

The two Ministers also expressed their appreciation for the work of the Irish Council for International Students in helping students affected by the college closures.

Further information on the new regulations for providers and students will be available on the websites of the Immigration and Naturalisation and Immigration Service (, the Department of Education and Skills ( and the Student Taskforce (


Link to the report: