On 5th November, the UCD Students’ Union unanimously approved a motion to raise awareness around the issue of INIS immigration appointments. The action is intended to highlight the struggles faced by international students attempting to obtain visas or residence permits, which are required for all non-EU/EEA students studying at UCD for a semester or more.
Depending on their country of origin, non-EU international students require either a visa or an Irish Residence Permit to study in Ireland for more than 3 months. In order to obtain these, they have to register for an appointment with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS). In 2016, it was mandated that all INIS appointments be scheduled online, since the previous system had left students waiting in lines for several hours outside of the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) office at Burgh Quay, the appointment location for all students living in Dublin. On the day of their appointments, students are expected to come to the Burgh Quay office prepared with several documents proving their permissibility to legally live and study in Ireland and a €300 registration fee.
However, the online INIS appointment system has been plagued with issues for months. While the main registration page continues to say that it “may take 2 or 3 days” to find an appointment, the reality for the majority of international students is much more grim. The most common answer received when visiting the site is that “no appointment(s) are currently available.” Often, when an available appointment does appear, students click the link to book it only to be told that it is no longer available. The site is also prone to crashes, lagging, and exploitation by “bots” which book large numbers of appointments and sell them to international students for €20-€30.
Students can spend up to months trying to get an appointment. For example, during this year’s orientation, when international students were asked if they had successfully registered for one, only a few people raised their hands. When they were asked if they had tried to register for one, nearly every hand in the room went up. As UCD researcher Carl J. Bindenagel put it in a letter to the Irish Times, “the process is like musical chairs, but without any chairs.”
There are also other problems with the INIS immigration system. Visa-requiring students who wish to travel abroad during their term of study (for holidays, conferences, etc.) also require a re-entry visa. Per a September policy change, all applications for these visas must be made by registered post, except in extreme circumstances, such as the death of a family member, in which case online appointments may be allowed. Still, this new system means that students applying for re-entry visas have to undergo a five to six-week waiting period, during which the documents required for visa registration, including their passports, are unavailable to them.
The response on the registration information page states that “we are aware that some customers are currently experiencing difficulties in making registration appointments and we are working to resolve this. We ask that customers bear with us and continue to make their appointments using the INIS online appointment system.” However, given the enormous amount of pressure placed on international students to go through the process as quickly as possible, as well as the fact that these issues have been going on for years now, any resolution to the registration problem seems to be coming much too slowly.
It is because of this that UCDSU approved the motion to raise awareness about the issue. The SU noted that UCD’s international students are facing “undue stress… which can negatively impact their mental health, academic performance and financial situation.” It has also asked UCDSU President Barry Murphy, in collaboration with UCDSU International Students Coordinator Andrew Grossen, to write and publish an open letter to the Minister of Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, asking for greater improvements to be made to the registration system and for an increase in resources given to INIS and the GNIB.
A quarter of UCD’s students come from abroad, and with this motion, the SU hopes to ensure a more equitable environment for all those who choose to come to this University.