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Ireland facing 'devastating' summer staffing crisis as thousands of visas to expire in two weeks

Many non-EU students will have to leave at the end of May unless they are granted an extension.

Image: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

THE GOVERNMENT IS being urged to extend visas for thousands of students working here or else face a staffing crisis in the hospitality industry this summer.

Representatives for English language students here are calling on the Government to extend Stamp Two visa permissions due to expire on 31 May until 30 September.

Stamp Two visas allow students to take up casual employment while studying in Ireland.. They can work up to 20 hours a week during term time and up to 40 hours a week in the holidays.

An estimated 2-3,000 young workers are now facing the prospect of leaving Ireland by the end of May only to return in September for the start of the academic year, according to the English Language Students Union (ELSU).

Many of the affected have placed deposits on starting new courses in September. Part of the visa laws here means that those who were studying English could apply for a  new visa after two years if they were progressing to higher education. 

This is where the problem lies. Many students, who have paid deposits on their masters or post-graduate degrees, now face being sent home to South America until the start of the academic year. An extension to September would allow these students to live and work in Ireland until they take up their new courses. 

This means that many low-paid staff would have to pay for flights to return to their home countries. Money used for these flights would have been spent on education in Ireland, activists have argued.

This would also result in students losing their jobs, their accommodation and the investment they made in their education and in Irish universities.

Stamp 2 visas were extended on a number of occasions during the pandemic. However, a combination of a backlog in the system and long processing times have resulted in this current problem.

Adrian Cummins of the Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) said that if the students do not receive an additional extension, it would represent a “devastating” impact on the Irish hospitality industry this year.

“What we’d like to see is that the Government extend the visa permissions for another six months. This will affect people and businesses across the country. There is a percentage of people who will be fine but there will be plenty who will not be.

“This will have a devastating effect on the industry. We need to have people who will be able to work and so we don’t have to deal with a much greater labour shortage.”

Cummins added that many of the staff who worked in the sector during the pandemic were the same people who are going to be affected by this visa issue, making this a very serious issue for the sector. He appealed to the Department of Justice to grant some form of relief to the students. 

Fiachra Ó Luain, co-founder of the ELSU, has called on the Government to immediately extend the visas to help the thousands of students who are stuck in an administrative limbo.

He said: “This is of utmost urgency and we call on all parties and all members of the Oireachtas, especially from those from within the coalition to support these requests as a matter of urgency.

“We need an announcement this week so that students have enough time to change their travel plans and remain here to work.

“Ireland cannot afford to lose critical labour capacity during the high season of the summer months when these students are allowed to work full time, this will also help them be able to save up for the academic year ahead.”

The “vast, vast” majority of people who are going to be affected by this visa issue work in the hospitality sector, Ó Luain added. 

“This is another reason why this is so important. You’re removing thousands from the labour force overnight at a time when everyone is looking to hire people.”

Several TDs have made representations to Justice Minister Helen McEntee in relation to this issue.

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In response to a parliamentary question posed by Sinn Féin’s Chris Andrews, the Minister said: “Since the onset of the pandemic, immigration permissions have been extended nine times, which means that people who held a valid permission to be in the State in March 2020 are legally permitted to remain until 31 May 2022. At this time, I have no plans to issue an extension beyond 31 May 2022.”

Ó Luain said that time is of the essence for the Minister to act as there are now thousands of people getting ready to leave the state at the end of the month.

“It’s an automatic extension we’re looking for – up until the end of September. This would allow people who have been working all through the pandemic to stay and work through summer ahead of studying in September.

“This is causing a huge and horrible stress to people involved. Employers are sometimes stricter than gardaí on issues like this. It’s simple, really. If the permission for the employees runs out, they’ll be made unemployed, they’ll be fired.”

In response to a query from The Journal, the Department of Justice reiterated its written statement to Chris Andrews.

A spokesperson for the department said: “Since the onset of the pandemic, immigration permissions have been extended nine times, which means that people who held a valid permission to be in the State in March 2020 are legally permitted to remain until 31 May 2022. At this time, there are no plans to issue an extension beyond 31 May 2022.

“Dublin based customers who are seeking to renew their permission can continue to do so online. Since its introduction in July 2020, the online renewal process has completed approximately 125,000 applications.”

In February of this year, Fáilte Ireland claimed that the country needs to fill 40,000 vacancies in the hospitality and tourism sectors.

The tourism authority suggested that the industry was experiencing a recruitment crisis, largely due to vacancies arising from the impact of the pandemic.

While labour experts doubted the veracity of the 40,000 claim, those in the industry agreed that a labour shortage was affecting the industry.

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