The number of international degree students coming to Ireland reaches a new high

20 May 2019

New research examines how Ireland’s immigration policy helps to attract non-EEA nationals to study in Ireland and to retain them after graduation. The research is part of an EU-wide study conducted by the European Migration Network, which is funded by the European Commission and the Department of Justice and Equality. It finds that more people are coming to Ireland to study, with numbers increasing by 45 per cent between 2013 and 2017. However, non-EEA students report difficulties with immigration registration delays, accessing employment and accommodation, which could affect Ireland’s attractiveness as a place to study and find post-college employment.

Students form the largest category of non-EEA migrants arriving in Ireland each year, coming ahead of labour migrants, family members and other groups. Just over 9,300 first residence permits were issued to higher education students in 2013, increasing to around 13,500 in 2017.

China is the top country of origin of full-time non-EEA students in State-funded higher education institutions. Malaysia, the US, Canada, India and Saudi Arabia also featured in the top five countries between 2013-2016. The majority of non-EEA students are enrolled in health and welfare courses, representing 31 per cent of all full-time non-EEA enrolments.

Sarah Groarke, lead author of the report, commented, ‘Ireland is successfully attracting and retaining increased numbers of higher-level non-EEA students. However, our report highlights obstacles persist for some students including delays in immigration registration, securing affordable student accommodation and transition to employment after graduation.

Non-EEA students have reported difficulty finding work because employers are not always aware that they are entitled to work under the Third Level Graduate Programme. Ireland allows non-EEA students with an honours degree or higher to remain in the State for 12 to 24 months after studies to look for work under the Third Level Graduate Programme. This is uncommon among EU countries and is designed to retain highly-skilled international graduates. Almost 2,090 non-EEA students were granted permission to stay under the Third Level Graduate Programme in 2017, up from around 650 in 2012.

The number of non-EEA graduates who obtained an employment permit following their studies also increased from 48 in 2013 to 871 in 2017. Minimum income thresholds for employment permits were also reported as a barrier for non-EEA graduates seeking employment in Ireland.

Immigration registration delays are also a problem for students, who report difficulties scheduling appointments to register or renew their residence permits at INIS. Often there are no appointments available on the online booking system. Students have reported that delays cause stress and anxiety in relation to their legal status and have a negative impact on their academic experience in Ireland.

For further information, please contact:

Sarah Groarke, Researcher at the Irish National Contact Point of the European Migration Network, ESRI 
01 8632134
Email: [email protected]

Notes for editors

  • Attracting and retaining international higher education students: Ireland by Sarah Groarke and Christina Durst will be published on the ESRI website ( and the EMN Ireland website ( at 00:01, 21 May 2019. The embargo is 00:01, 21 May 2019. 
  • The ESRI acts as the Irish National Contact Point of the European Migration Network (EMN). The aim of EMN is to provide up-to-date, objective, reliable and comparable information on migration and asylum at member state and EU-level (see here).

The EMN is co-funded by the European Commission DG Migration and Home Affairs and the Irish Department of Justice and Equality.