Are you among those who have been left infuriated with the Irish visa renewal procedures after spending long hours on the online INIS website and eventually have to courier your documents to the Burgh Quay centre if you’re in Dublin? Well then, you’re not alone in what seems to be like a never-ending exhausting battle in 2020.
Right, before we move further, let’s have a quick read at what these immigration stamps mean.
Stamps or visas are only for those who are non-European nationals. Starting with the basics, all non-EEA nationals who are living in the Republic of Ireland as students are on Stamp 2. The criteria for obtaining a Stamp 2 is firstly, you’ve to be a foreign national (outside of the European Economic Area) and secondly, enrolled in a Quality & Qualifications Ireland (QQI) or an Irish recognised institute of higher education, or an English-language school.
Every student who is on a level 8 (graduate) has been granted a one year post-study work visa and those on level 9 (postgraduate), two years. Post-study work visa, in other words, is the graduate visa, also known as Stamp 1G. Though granted for a total of two years, you need to renew it every year.
If you’re fortunate enough to land a job that earns you €32,000 and falls under the Critical Skills list as deemed by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation (DJEI), you might ask your employer to sponsor you, in that case, you would earn a Critical Skills Employment Permit (CSEP) directly and your stamp would that be 1 instead of 1G. To convert your Stamp 1G into Stamp 1, you need to have a minimum salary of €28,000 per year. In any case, you can either ask your employer to sponsor you or pay a fee of €1,000 yourself. After about 5 years on Stamp 1G, you may apply for Stamp 4.
In case you do not have an employer and want to apply under the category of self-sponsor, your pay package must be that of €64,000 per year. Phew!
Where’s the catch? While most employers these days are well-versed with the visa norms as global horizons broaden, a lot of them offer jobs to only those on Stamp 1G or more so, to those on Stamps 1 or 4- The reason being that an individual on either of these stamps can work for 40 hours a week, instead of 20 hours a week that you can do if you’re on a student visa. The maximum hours of working allowed by the Irish government, however, is 48 hours per week and anything exceeding that is illegal.
While a student visa does allow you to work for 40 hours in the off-college periods, meaning December 15- January 15 and a few other weeks, it becomes a little tedious at times to switch from 40 hours full-time to 20 hours part-time rosters. That’s when some students, these days, go for freelancing or look for other options.
Why is changing from Stamp 2 to Stamp 1G such a hassle then? Well, it is, given the fact that you’re no longer a student and that you would be treated as an ordinary citizen. Meaning, you won’t have a student card (no more discount at fast food joints, clubs or the LEAP cards). While students outside of Dublin have to enquire for available dates via mail so that they can visit their nearest immigration centre, submit the documents and wait for their passports to be returned, the situation in Dublin is a little different owing to the surging number of expats living here, though everything is now online. You can only imagine how it would be if the students physically visited the Burgh Quay centre amidst this pandemic- Mad!
What documents do you require? A passport that is valid for another six months at least, your current IRP or GNIB card, medical insurance, transcripts of your final grade and a €300 payment. Transcripts are the evidence that you’ve graduated and are no longer a student. While many are yet to have their convocation with some institutes going for online ones and some others deferring until next year, the parchment is supposed to be sent to students by post while the transcripts and the official graduate letter is sent via email by the college to the students.
‘It’s difficult’ is what a lot of students have to say. While some students have either lost opportunities because of the delay in securing a 1G, many others have had to face the dilemma of either going back to their countries for good, or wait for their 1G to be processed. Embassies have been really supportive as many have granted permissions for students to travel to their home countries if their passports are at the immigration centre, in case of emergencies, apply for a re-entry visa from their home nation or ask someone to courier their passport to them back at home.
“Fresh graduates have got nothing to do with this. I’m actively looking for opportunities on job referral sites and have been turned down at many occasions, simply because I do not have a 1G in hand”, says Honey*, from the UCD Data Analytics 2019-20 class.
“Forget about getting a full-time, I lost out on the opportunity of getting a part-time simply because I did not have my current GNIB card in hand to show that everything is genuine. I might have to go back”, said Cami*, another UCD Sciences graduate.
“I was looking for a job in the hospitality industry and had a job in my hand. I don’t know whether I’m more annoyed at the pandemic, the year 2020 or the fact that I lost out the opportunity because my new IRP would take such a long time to arrive”, remarks Kiara*.
“I’m planning to go back to India but my passport is at the centre. Had I known it’s going to take such a long while, I would have done something and applied a long time ago”, says Tanay*.
The response from the Burgh Quay centre is almost non-existent. Scores across the city have complained that the general email ID doesn’t render any responses, and even after someone managed to get in the name of a contact person and addressed the emails to her from then on, the efforts were futile.
It’s not just about those who are converting their Stamps from 2 to 1/1G. A lot of those on the CSEP have faced an enormous amount of delays in simply getting acknowledgement from the Bureau, nevermind getting their passports back. Those in the process of converting their Stamp 1/1G to Stamp 4 are now faced with a never-ending queue, while those in the process of naturalisation from Stamp 4 or spouse visas are in a similar boat.
While the government has been trying its best to cater to everyone, it hasn’t been possible to do so much. The initial extensions were granted to everyone whose visas expired in the months from March to stay until July, then September to December and eventually till January 2021.
“Extensions make no sense because one, we don’t know from which date until when would the passport be stamped and two, the current rate of getting the passport back is somewhere from 6-8 weeks. What would happen to us when visas are no more automatically renewed? Sure, we wouldn’t be kicked off for no fault of ours but it is as weirder as it gets,” says Raquel* rather hastily.
When asked Joseph* who has been working in one of the outsourcing companies in the city, “I have been on a Stamp 4 aka work visa for 4 years now. I arrived in Dublin on a work visa, didn’t have to undergo the pains of transferring from a student visa to a graduate and then work but now I can only begin to fathom how cumbersome this entire process is. While I was fortunate enough to get my passport back in time, it has been returned with a black sticker instead of the usual one. A few of those who applied with me have had the same and while it might be normal, it’s unusual and lacks a clear explanation.”
“With the pandemic, I did lose out on many opportunities. I did land myself interviews and final round discussions of many companies, including some big names, but have either been rejected or stopped owing to the hiring freeze. It’s been eight months now, which feels like I’ve wasted almost one year for no fault of mine. I’m on the second year of my Stamp 1G and if I don’t get a job soon, I might have to go back”, says another one. However, she adds, “I do not wish to go back considering the difficulties that I’ve faced in my society and hence might spend a fortune and get myself another master course here if it means getting the chance to stay here for another year and try my luck”, says a rather fazed Rita*.
While a lot of students who are in their last months of 1G for the second time are considering going back to student visas by applying for another master, it is very tedious considering the amount spent, the approval of visas- Sure, each case differs on an individual basis, though the maximum that you can stay on a student visa is eight years.
Some students think that it is a clever decision to take the 1G with them now, return to their countries and apply for jobs in Ireland from there, considering that they’ll save on the rent and wouldn’t have to face the bitter weather. “At least there’s no lockdown elsewhere, I would be at peace with my family and would be able to roam around freely”, says Hasan*, a Trinity 2020 graduate.
A few of those who are not that brave-hearted said that they’ll be going back to their countries for good, and while this wasn’t what they had originally intended to do, they’d be happy to start afresh.
It’s a mess. Only time will tell how much more they will have to face with the Irish visa renewal systems.
*Names have been changed on request.
You may also be interested in: How to apply for an Irish visa and the stamp system