Andrea Andres investigates the non-EEA visa and the difficulties that come with it.
Student X didn’t anticipate job hunting to be this difficult. “I got an interview through a referral and apart from the assessment, nothing is coming up and I was wondering what was the problem. Is it the visa status or other issues?”
“The interview went on for almost two hours. I did amazingly well. It was a technical interview so all the questions they were asking me, technology-wise, I was able to answer them pretty well”, they said. “There were four other people who got the referral as well from that same person and all of them got a rejection from the company in a week or so. But they took 20 to 25 days to reply to me so I was hoping for good news. When they called me, ‘Yeah, you were in consideration for a long time, but we found someone with a better visa status and availability’”.
Student X’s story is not an uncommon tale among non-EEA (European and Economic Area) students holding a Stamp 1G visa. According to the Department of Justice, the Stamp 1G visa allows non-EEA students to “remain in Ireland after their studies” for the purposes of looking for a job and applying for one of three permits: a general employment permit, a critical skills employment permit, or a research hosting agreement. Students who have completed their Bachelor’s degree in Ireland are granted 12 months, while those who completed their Master’s degree are granted 24 months.
Student X admits that their experience with rejection due to their visa status has discouraged them in their job search. They said: “I lost a lot of motivation because there was nothing better that I could do in the interview
and the preparation for it. It wasn’t like I messed up the interview or something”.
Aaditya Shah, a UCD graduate, recounts a ‘funny’ incident where he took 45 minutes of his time to fill in an application form for a job. “After applying within less than 45 minutes I got a rejection because of my Stamp 1G visa”.
He continued: “Generally speaking, I was not aware that my visa status might bring some challenges that would differentiate us from other candidates”. Shah also pointed out “that the opportunities for the market before Covid were quite open, there was no much discrimination”. However, he describes how there is fierce competition due to many laid off by the squeeze caused by the pandemic. “Most of the job descriptions during 2020 did not permit Stamp 1G to be able to apply for the role. And even if we applied, we were rejected. That was a difficult phase”, Shah added.
Neither Shah nor Student X knew of any resources that could help them with navigating the job market with a Stamp 1G visa. Student X described it as “a very grey area.” “It’s not something I can exactly get help with”, they said.
Since March 2019, the Stamp 1G visa has allowed the spouses or partners of PhD students doing research in Ireland to work full-time, provided that the PhD student has a hosting agreement with the university. A hosting agreement is “essentially a contract between the student and the university where they will be treated and paid like the employees of the university”, described Carla Gummerson, Graduate Officer for the UCD Students’ Union. However, the partners and spouses cannot avail of the Stamp 1G visa and are relegated to a Stamp 3 visa. They cannot work or own a business under Stamp 3.
“It looks like the government has done something in 2019, but they haven’t really. It’s kind of a tick the box”, she added. “The only people that will be able to avail of that will be employees of the university. So, non-EU employees that have been employed and which would most likely be like a postdoc researcher.”
The plight of spouses and partners of PhD students first came to the attention of Gummerson after talks with the University of Limerick (UL). Despite no PhD students in UCD coming forward to Gummerson, PhD students were coming forward in UL. “I knew when they reached out to us that if it’s happening there, it’s
definitely happening here. It’s just maybe hasn’t been spoken about”. The root cause of the problem is the refusal of universities to allow hosting agreements with PhD students; “they don’t want PhD students to be seen as employees, even though they work the very same way as staff do and do the very same roles the staff do.”
“It wouldn’t benefit the college because they would have to provide [better rights and a higher salary] to employees. But I suppose that does help students that don’t have a hosting agreement,” she continued.
The lack of working rights for the spouse or partners also puts an “onus” and “undue stress” on the PhD student “who is more than likely living off a stipend of less than €20,000, and has to provide for both of them. They have to have living costs, so they have to if you’re here on a visa, you have to have their own living costs, which is €7000 for a Stamp 3. And that, again, has to come from the students. So they have to find that money every year and for their spouse”.
What Gummerson “would prefer is that [PhD students] didn’t have to provide”, and that “the stipend was for them and for their own living costs and that the person that comes with them would be able to work and that way could provide for themselves here and be productive members of society. Most spouses are probably sitting at home doing nothing, isolated”
As for solutions for the predicament of these partners and spouses of PhD students, “What the university could do is start allowing PhDs to have hosting agreements. That would really help. But I can’t foresee that happening simply because they’ll be seen as employees then. And it’s not something I don’t think the university wants. And because I know that’s the biggest fight that PhDs students have.”
However, the UCDSU and other student unions across Ireland are collaborating on a letter “to Simon Harris. We’re hoping that if we kind of disseminate the issues of PhD students a little bit that you could attack them in a smaller arena and you might get a little bit of change. And what we would hope to see from that will be that these students and their spouses particularly would have the right to work when they come here."