Third level’s second class citizens


Children of non-EU migrants have the same rights as their Irish-born peers to primary and secondary education, but are at a disadvantage if they succeed in getting to third level, writes JAMIE SMYTH , Social Affairs Correspondent

LAIZA SUAREZ still remembers the day she got her Leaving Certificate results. She scored 425 points, enough to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. “I was really happy. It got me into nursing at UCD,” she says, in a Dublin accent that almost masks her Filipino origins.

But unlike most of her classmates at her school in Cabinteely, Suarez’s joy was tinged with worry about her mother’s ability to pay her college fees.

Her mother, Josielyn, is one of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who came to Ireland to help fuel the Celtic Tiger economy. She left the Philippines in 2002 and secured a permit to work as a housekeeper in Dublin.

The teenage Laiza followed her in 2006 and completed secondary school in 2009. As the daughter of a non-EU migrant she is ineligible for free fees or the student grants that Irish and other EU students receive. The most she can hope for is to be accepted for a reduction in full international college fees for having lived in the EU. But even that reduction is too much to bear.

“My fees are €7,260 per year and my mum is low-paid. It is a struggle,” she says, pulling out her latest UCD bill to prove her point.

Josielyn took out a bank loan to cover the first-year fees and has borrowed money from her employer to pay the second-year fees. She is working additional nights and doing some childminding to help pay off the loans.

“I’m worried my employer could cut my hours,” she says. “The children in the house are getting bigger, and I’m afraid they won’t need me so much . . . The recession is difficult for a lot of migrant workers. After nine years in Ireland paying taxes I just don’t understand why Laiza had to pay fees and all the other children in her class didn’t.”

The Suarez family’s dilemma is faced by thousands of children of non-EU nationals living and working in Ireland. Migrant workers qualify for long-term residency rights and, in some cases, for free third-level fees after five years. However, arcane Irish immigration rules do not allow these rights to be transferred to their children. Nor can the children of non-EU parents earn residency in their own right.

The children of non-EU migrants are therefore regarded as foreign students when applying for third-level courses. Children must wait until they are 16 to begin building up the five-year residency requirement to become eligible for free fees.

“Categorising these kids as foreign students means they are not eligible for student grants or free fees even if they have spent their whole lives in the Irish school system and their parents have paid taxes and contributed to the economy,” says Helen Lowry, a community-work co-ordinator at the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI). “Full international fees are hugely costly, as much as €20,000 per year in some cases. EU fees, which generally cost several thousand euro, are also a huge burden for migrants, who often work low-paid jobs.”

The decision on whether the child of a non-EU migrant pays full international fees or reduced EU fees is left to each individual college. For example, Trinity College Dublin charges EU fees if students have been resident in the EU for three of the previous five years before admission. But there is no uniform rule covering all colleges.

“There is so much paperwork to send in to prove you have been resident for several years, and at the back of your mind you worry they could charge you full fees,” says Lev Prymakov, a 20-year-old student originally from Ukraine.

Prymakov pays more than €6,000 per year to study financial and actuarial maths at Dublin City University. His mother, Olga, came to Ireland from Ukraine in 2001 to work in a fish-processing factory in Finglas. She now works at a call centre for a US multinational.

“I found it tough when I first arrived in Ireland, because I didn’t speak English. But I’ve integrated well, and most of my friends are Irish,” says Prymakov, who is looking for a part-time job to help pay his college fees.

His brother is due to complete his Leaving Certificate this summer, and Olga fears there will be no money to send him to college. “Migrants aren’t entitled to anything . . . You are third class, not like a citizen,” she says.

According to MRCI research, Ireland is out of step with many of its EU partners in its approach to integrating migrant workers through education. In Germany the children of non-EU nationals can be eligible for grants if one parent has been working there for three of the previous six years. In Denmark they are exempt from paying fees if they have a residency permit and their parents have work permits. Migrant students in Belgium can apply for a grant if they have lived with their family in the country for at least two years.

In Ireland, two attempts by the previous government to reform immigration law failed when Bills became bogged down in the Oireachtas. The new Government is promising to reform the system but has not given a date when this will happen.

It is not just the children of migrant workers who face economic exclusion from third-level education. The children of asylum seekers must also pay college fees, even when they are allowed to stay in Ireland.

Alena Bliznikova left Kazakhstan in 2001 with her parents, who claimed asylum in Ireland. They were granted leave to remain in 2005 by the minister for justice. Bliznikova became a star pupil at her secondary school, scoring 555 points in her Leaving Certificate.

“I was offered a scholarship because I had done so well. But when I submitted the application forms I was told I could not get it because I was not an Irish citizen and I hadn’t got full refugee status,” she says.

With no grant or scholarship available, Bliznikova gave up her dream of studying medicine, because the course was too expensive. She enrolled in an accountancy course at Rathmines College because it was so much cheaper than a university course, but she left after two weeks.

“I thought I could do much better at university. So I found a job and worked for two years to make money to pay the fees,” she says.

Bliznikova, who is now 21, finally enrolled at UCD to take an actuarial course in 2009. She is doing well at college, but her savings are running short already.

“My living costs are more expensive than I thought. My parents and I are struggling. If I wasn’t so focused on education I think I would have given up . . . but I don’t know if I will be able to pay for my third year. I’m worried I may have to drop out,” she says. “I feel it is unfair that I’ve been living here a decade and really want to do well and contribute to society but face this financial barrier.”

But at least she has made it to college. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of migrant children do not make it.

Cliona Hannon, director of Trinity Access Programmes (Tap), which works with schools and provides financial aid to help children from disadvantaged communities get into Trinity, says migrants tend to be among the most hard-working and ambitious students.

“In many cases we would have worked with the students and their families for years through the Tap primary and second-level outreach activities, and the idea of them having reached this academic transition point but being unable to progress for financial reasons is truly heartbreaking,” she says.

Tap currently has 15 non-EU undergraduates who are paying EU fees and five non-EU foundation-course students who will most likely have to pay EU fees next year. But many students simply can’t afford any university fees, according to Hannon. She says the access programme will consider asking Trinity to waive the fees for some students later this year. But this would not alter the fact that their residency status is unresolved and they can’t access grants, Hannon points out.

Observers warn that neglecting young migrants could mean a huge waste of potential talent that would benefit the State. A generation of migrant children could be alienated. “The people who are denied opportunity, who can’t fulfil their potential, are going to be alienated and angry,” says Prof John Mollenkopf, an expert on immigration and integration, who teaches at the City University of New York. “It does seem to me that a person who has grown up in a society, even if they lack citizenship or nationality, should be able to access the full range of educational opportunities.

“In an increasingly global world each nation benefits from having a diversity that enables it to link with other parts of the world. Migrants fully integrated into leadership of Irish society can create links with Africa, China or eastern Europe and help the economy. These children should be given a chance.”

The Irish Times – Saturday, April 2, 2011


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