When a job-rejection email lands in her inbox, Juliana Monteiro logs it.

“I started doing a spreadsheet with the job I’d applied for, the day I applied, when I heard back from the company, things like that,” she says.

A friend suggested it. That way, she can use the refusals to boost her chances of visa renewal, she says. She usually gets one or two rejection emails a day.

Monteiro, a Dubliner from Brazil, is in her first year with a 1G stamp, which is given to some graduates from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA).

People with higher-level degrees from universities and colleges in Ireland, like Monteiro – who has a master’s in entrepreneurship – can stay and work on that stamp for 24 months. Those with bachelor’s degrees can do the same for 12 months.

But not always. Master’s graduates have to prove to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that they found a job or took“appropriate steps” to find one in the first year to get a 1G stamp for the second year.

During a job-killing pandemic, that has been tough.

Even in normal times, though, a lack of clarity around the evidence needed to get that extension means people like Monteiro spend hours gathering paperwork and proof, ever anxious about whether what they have will get them over the line, or whether they’ll have to give up the lives they have built.

The added hurdle and uncertainty also risks pushing those desperate to stay in Ireland into lower-wage jobs, rather than holding out for better work or haggling for a higher salary.

The Job Hunt

From 2018 to 2019 – the most recent figures available – a little over 9,000 people either signed up to get, or to renew, their 1G stamps, according to the Department of Justice press office.

But the department doesn’t know how many applications for 1G stamp renewals were refused. It doesn’t record that, said a spokesperson.

Monteiro, who worked as a cleaner and a barista to pay the bills as a student, is unsure how many job interviews or rejection letters means trying hard enough to find work to satisfy the renewal requirement.

Some 1G graduates rely on hearsay as they try to work out what would satisfy renewal conditions.

José Lara, a recent master’s graduate from Mexico City, heard he needed proof that he’d been to “one job interview per month” to renew his 1G stamp, which ran out in December.

He doesn’t make the cut for an interview often though, he says. Because of his status.

“Even when you’re filling out the forms, a lot of times it asks if you’re Irish or European or have Stamp 4,” he says.

Graduates with 1G stamps have said in the past that their job applications are often thrown out, or job offers withdrawn, by employers ignorant about immigration permissions or unwilling to deal with the bureaucracy.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that conditions for renewing 1G stamps are “determined by way of administrative arrangements” and “are not expressly prescribed in law”.

They set these extra renewal requirements to ensure that students are making “genuine efforts” to land jobs after graduation, they said.

“For example, attending job interviews or signing up with graduate employment agencies,” they said.

Monteiro’s 1G stamp expires at the end of the year. She feels pressured to take on jobs unrelated to her degree, she says.

Last Friday, she was finally offered an admin job for a little over minimum wage. She’s grateful, she says. “I’m going to take it, and yes, I also don’t have to stress about renewal next year.”

The spokesperson said they are conscious of issues around how the extra requirement for renewal may push non-EEA nationals into low-wage jobs.

Although “not strictly”, immigration authorities evaluate the income of 1G renewal applicants in line with salary thresholds for non-EEA nationals set by the Department of Enterprise and Employment, they said.

Under those thresholds,) a non-EEA national has to earn at least €30,000 a year for a general work permit.

“Minimum wage does not meet this criteria,” the spokesperson said.

That doesn’t mean all applicants for renewal who live on minimum wage face refusal. The final decision rests with the immigration officer, the department spokesperson said.

Registration officers take all factors into account and judge each case by its “individual merits”, they said.

Worsened by the Pandemic

Nathalia Almeida’s window for a job search has coincided with the pandemic.

She finished a bachelor’s in business last year, one which made her eligible for a 1G stamp and she is looking forward to working full-time, she says. She’d been working minimum-wage jobs while she studied.

As a bachelor’s graduate, she had a year to find a job.

But “most offices closed, and there weren’t any positions”, says Almeida, who is also from Brazil, and has been in Ireland for nearly nine years on student visas.

Her stamp expired last week. She wrote to the Department of Justice to ask for an extension on her 1G stamp, and they said she could only get six months more.

That gives Almeida until July to find a job, and through the job get the work permit that she needs to stay once her stamp 1G expires.

“And we’re in a lockdown again, at least they should give me a six-month extension from the day the country opens again to look for jobs,” says Almeida

Lara, too, faces another hurdle, made taller by the pandemic.

He had to renew his passport recently. Because of that, and unlike most other applicants in Dublin, he can’t reboot his Irish Residence Permit (IRP), the card that proves he can be here, online. It takes a face-to-face meeting with an immigration officer.

If you live in Dublin and have recently renewed your passport, contact the Burgh Quay office with an email entitled “new passport” to make an appointment,says an INIS document.

Says Lara: “Obviously, they said they’re not open under level five.”

Lara says he’s effectively become undocumented and is always worried.

He spends half his days looking for jobs, hoarding evidence of rejection for INIS, and the other half signing up for free online courses to keep busy, he says.

“I’m very worried about my situation, I don’t want to be illegal in this country,” he says.

If Lara’s IRP and stamp had been valid for two years, his life wouldn’t be so complicated, he says.

“I had a job offer related to my course, but I couldn’t take it because I don’t have any documents,” he says.

If master’s or PhD graduates are eligible for 24 months of residency, should they automatically get those two years, reducing the burden of paperwork for both applicants and the department?

The Department of Justice does not have any current plans to “amend the renewal process for 1G immigration”, says a spokesperson. “However, all immigration policies are subject to ongoing review.”

Shamim Malekmian covers the immigration beat for Dublin Inquirer. Reach her at shamim@dublininquirer.com

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