Ireland is a small country but seems to be punching above its weight when it comes to Indian students looking to study abroad. At present, some 10,000 Indian students are pursuing higher education there and thousands more are set to join them this year.
In an interview to Moneycontrol, Brendan Ward, the ambassador of Ireland to India, said the process of issuing visa and residency permits for foreign students, including Indians, is efficient and competitive, underlining why his country is increasingly becoming an attractive destination for Indian students.
He also spoke about the favourable post-study visa rules and part-time work permits of between 20 and 40 hours a week that allow students to earn while they learn.
Besides Indian students, Ward said Ireland is becoming a favoured destination for highly skilled Indian professionals and healthcare workers like nurses. In 2022 alone, the country is set to let in about 7,000 such professionals, including 2,000 high-skills workers. He said the Indian expat population in Ireland is now around 50,000 and growing by about 10 percent a year, and working as a huge support system for visiting Indian students and professionals. Edited excerpts from the interview:
How many Indian students are in Ireland right now?
About 10,000 Indian students are in Ireland. We would have around 5,000 (Indian) students going to Ireland this year. A vast majority of them are going for one-year or two-year master’s programmes, some are doing PhDs, and a small number doing undergraduate studies.
Ireland is a small country but some 10,000 Indian students pursuing higher education there looks like a good number. What does this signify?
The Indian community in Ireland has been growing rapidly in the last 10-15 years. We estimate that there are now around 50,000 Indians who are living long-term in Ireland. That makes for a good support network for Indian students who decide to pursue studies in Ireland.
Another factor is the ability to work after graduation in Ireland. So, students are granted a two-year stay-back visa after they complete their master’s or other degrees. The environment in Ireland—with all of the major ICT (information and communications technology) companies being present, pharma companies and a vibrant financial services sector—means there are plenty of jobs there for those graduates.
The unemployment level in Ireland is slightly over 4 percent and in economic terms, it is called full employment. And there is a constant demand in sectors like ICT, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas, and financial services.
The fact that Ireland is an English-speaking country does make it more accessible for Indian students.
The UK has been a traditional destination for Indian students. And of late, it is making a renewed effort to attract talent/students (to make up for some lost ground). Will Ireland miss out eventually? Are you making some changes to visa or immigration rules?
Not particularly. We are, of course, aware of which are the countries—not just the United Kingdom—which are attracting foreign students, particularly Indian students. The UK is working to catch up and reverse some of their mistakes. We don’t have to worry about the United Kingdom.
Our visa processes and residency processes for students from all over the world, not just from India, are efficient and competitive… We are, of course, looking at ways in which we can make Ireland a more attractive destination.
The more students we have from more foreign countries, the more experience we gain. And the universities have substantial bodies of Indian students in some cases. When I was a student in University of Dublin, Trinity College (some four decades back) there were five or six Indian students and today it has about 800 Indian students.
You said Ireland is home to some 50,000 Indian expats. Does this mean Ireland is becoming a destination for Indian professionals as well?
Ireland is already an attractive destination. Our visa office, which is here in the building (the place where the interview happened), is expecting to issue 2,000 visas to highly qualified Indian skilled professionals who are going to work for Irish, international or Indian companies in our country. Then we also have about 4,000 to 5,000 Indian nurses and healthcare professionals who will travel to Ireland this year. So there is quite a strong flow. The Indian population in Ireland is growing about 10 percent each year.
And this growth of the Indian population is not a concern back home?
Not really. Traditionally, Irish people went around the world—Britain, the US, Canada, Australia, etc, but in the last 20 years it has kind of reversed. And now about one person out of every six living in Ireland is born abroad. In general, most migrants or as we call them in our country, ‘New Irish’, are pretty well integrated and settled well. The Indian community in particular are professionals, educated people, with a high standard of English, and some international exposure. The profile of Indians in Ireland is completely different.
We are quite a young country… Almost half of the population is under 30. Our minister for higher education is in his early 30s. It’s almost the same in education and businesses, etc.
Is there a number that Irish universities are targeting from India?
Indian students’ numbers (in Ireland) are growing around 10 percent per year. Of course, everything got disrupted during the two years of 2020 and 2021 (due to Covid-19). But it’s not just about Indian students… We have a good number of students from China, from the United States, etc. Our universities aim for somewhere around 20 percent of foreign students in the overall students body. They enrich the education experience.
We do understand that the cost of (foreign) education is high for Indians, so we are ensuring that the experience is very good…and the education received is both high quality, globally competitive and globally recognised.
What kind of courses are Indian students going for in terms of domain?
Well, the majority of them are going for master’s degrees in courses related to ICT, STEM subjects, and in some cases, they are going for master's courses in business and finance. Some are in medical and pharma-related areas, and a very small number for courses in humanities and liberal arts.
You touched upon how your government is mindful of students’ desire to earn while studying. Please elaborate.The system permits them to work up to 20 hours a week while they are undertaking their studies. And I think, it's 40 hours a week during the university vacation. Now obviously, if you are going to study in a demanding master’s degree course, you should invest time (in education). Part-time jobs can be useful supplements.