These days, when students from outside of the European Economic Area graduate from universities in Ireland, the immigration permission they have changes from a Stamp 2 to a Stamp 1G.
That wasn’t always the case.
Up to 31 May 2017, graduates were shunted from one kind of Stamp 2 to another kind of Stamp 2 – one that at a glance looked the same even though it meant they could work full-time.
The old system bred confusion and hassle when looking for a job, said Prabeesh T. Prathapan last Thursday, sitting at a cafe on Pearse Street.
He had to show college transcripts to employers to prove he had graduated, he says. “That was really hard, actually.”
Prathapan is now grappling with more life-changing uncertainty because of that stamp. He is unsure whether his time on it counts towards the years in the country he must have to apply for citizenship – as its replacement, the Stamp 1G, does.
Counting that time would mean he could put in an application for citizenship next year, he says, a change that would free him to choose a job outside of the rigid rules that currently dictate his options.
But official sources are often mealy-mouthed when it comes to questions about immigration rules. The Department of Justice website just doesn’t address this one.
On 30 September, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said Stamp 2 “granted for the purpose of engaging in a course of education” doesn’t count toward citizenship. But they didn’t clearly say if those granted with graduate conditions do.
For Prathapan, that response wasn’t reassuring enough. “Do you think we can get a clarification again for a yes or no?”
On 4 October, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice gave a more direct response. A Stamp 2, granted in line with the conditions of a graduate programme, counts towards citizenship, they said.
Open to Interpretation
Wendy Lyon, partner and solicitor at Abbey Law, says that regardless of stamp names, there isn’t anything in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 0f 1956 that could stop people from having their graduate time counted, Lyon says.
The law doesn’t mention stamp names at all, she says. “It’s purely to do with the underlying basis of your residency.”
Anyone who came here as a student but was allowed to stay after finishing up a course, Lyon says, is exempt from a condition that makes students’ time in Ireland not count for citizenship.
It doesn’t matter what the name of their post-graduate stamp was.
Whether “it is called Stamp 2, Stamp 2 on student holiday conditions, Stamp 1, Stamp 1G or whatever. It’s reckonable under the law,” she says.
For Prathapan, what the department says matters.
He worries about applying based in part on his time on that Stamp 2 and his application being dismissed, he says. “Nowhere written on my passport that it’s a grad visa.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said applicants who have lived and worked on graduate stamps like 1G must also show that they complied with its terms.
(Those on Stamp 1G, for example, can’t use publicly funded services, like public hospitals, unless they’re entitled via other means, they said.)
Lyon, the solicitor, says proving compliance to a stamp that was never cancelled over violation of its rules isn’t necessary for citizenship applicants.
She says the department can retroactively revoke a stamp for non-compliance, albeit that’s very unusual. “But they can’t decide not to count a validly held reckonable permission towards naturalisation just because the conditions weren’t complied with,” Lyon says.
The first graduate stamp on Prathapan’s passport even lists the employment conditions for students, which doesn’t allow full-time work during term time, even though that was irrelevant for him, he says.
Lyon says that people could also put in a “subject access request” and get their hands on their registration files to see if their permissions’ conditions are clearly outlined there before applying for citizenship.
Subject access requests (SAR) allow people access to their personal files to learn how their data is being processed, free of charge.
The Department of Justice’s Irish Immigration Service website lists the conditions of the Stamp 2 for students but doesn’t mention the Stamp 2 for graduates and the conditions around that.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that it regularly reviews its Irish Immigration Service website and plans to update it for further clarity on this issue.
Meanwhile, they said, migrants could contact its Immigration Service Delivery (ISD) with eligibility questions they can’t find an answer to on the website.
A Path to Freedom
Prathapan says that his years on graduate stamps didn’t matter much until a couple of weeks ago.
It was only towards the end of September that he learnt his time on a Stamp 1G could be counted towards reckonable residence for citizenship after reading an article published then, he said.
He had spent two years on a Stamp 1G too, after a second master’s programme.
But he hadn’t known that it could count, he says; even lawyers had told him it didn’t. “Everyone I knew said it wasn’t reckonable.”
Counting his two years and an extension on the Stamp 1G, and the one year that he had a student stamp with graduate conditions, Prathapan tallies four reckonable years, he says. Immigrants normally need five years of reckonable residency to apply for citizenship.
This year, he finally got a job with an employer willing to sponsor a work permit. Five months ago, he moved onto Stamp 1 – a type of stamp that tethers a worker to their employer for a year.
If that worker leaves the job after a year, they still have to find another employer willing to sponsor a new permit – until they have racked up enough time to move onto a coveted Stamp 4, which allows migrants to work without a work permit.
Prathapan says that many of his friends went for any job that got them a work permit and the right to stay, even if they felt unfulfilled or unhappy. “We can’t choose what we want to do.”
For Prathapan, being able to count that one year on his graduate Stamp 2 would mean a step closer to citizenship and to control over his own life, he says.
“If I get the citizenship, I can do anything I want. I can open a restaurant like this,” he says, smiling and motioning around at the busy coffee shop. “This is my dream.”