The Ever-Elusive Student Visa
Let me just start out by saying...I'm officially legal! The process of acquiring a student visa in Ireland is difficult, but not impossible. I have some classmates who were able to get their appointment with immigration within their first week of arriving and some who haven't even started the process yet. I keep referring to "the process" and unless you've been through it yourself, you have no idea what I'm talking about, so let me familiarize you.
When you arrive in Ireland, you get a stamp in your passport that allows you to stay for 90 days. If you plan to stay longer (for work, school, etc.) you must go to Immigration to get your visa. You can't just show up, though. You have to make an appointment online. Sounds easy, right? It should be...except the appointments disappear so fast. The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service website says appointments are posted at exactly 10:30 every morning, which holds true. I actually got an appointment my first week here, but it wasn't until the middle of November. I decided to cancel it (and stressed over this decision for days afterwards) and hope for a more immediate appointment, as you can't get a job without your visa and I'm already running low on funds. (Shocker, I know.)
The way to get an "emergency" appointment within a week of when you sign up for it requires a lot of patience, diligence, and luck. The website says that everyday at 2:30 they post newly available appointments, so basically appointments others had and cancelled. This sounds like it should be pretty simple as well, except that, as far as I know, these appointments have never been posted at 2:30. I've heard of some students finding appointments at 5:00 and some after midnight. I feel like it's the Immigration office's way of having a joke with the expats.
When I first got my appointment for November, I decided to keep it until I could get an appointment sooner, but the system won't let you book a second appointment until you cancel the first one. And so I did. And then days passed. In retrospect it was really only a few days, but the anxiety was real and it felt like an eternity. I was constantly refreshing the page, checking for newly posted appointments. Another fun joke Immigration is playing on us: sometimes it says there are appointments available, but when you click on it you are redirected to a page that says "the appointment you have chosen is no longer available." You can go back to the sign up page and it's still there, but alas, it is a phantom appointment. I clicked on so many of those appointments that last week, when I was zoning out in class and refreshing the page over and over on my phone, I clicked on an appointment and thought the website had a malfunction when I was directed to a confirmation page. It actually happened! I would have an appointment five days later!
But then reality set in. I now had to get everything together that I needed for my appointment. In order to get your visa, you need to prove that you are enrolled in a school and that you have enough money in an Irish bank account to sustain yourself. They require seeing 3,000 euros. I had already opened my Irish bank account and had my dad transfer money from the States, so I figured it would all be in order in time for my meeting. I wasn't 100% sure, though, because my card hadn't arrived in the mail yet so I couldn't go to an ATM to check my balance.
I downloaded the app for the bank but discovered that I needed an Irish phone number in order to activate the app. Before arriving here, I had decided that I would not be putting an Irish SIM card in my iPhone. When I lived in Australia, my Australian phone was a tiny Nokia without even a camera and definitely no data and I loved it. Not being connected at all times, not constantly feeling the need to immediately respond to messages or constantly check social media, was liberating. Then, when I lived in Thailand, I did have my Thai SIM in my phone and I feel that it kept me from completely experiencing my life there. And so I went to Tesco and bought a cheap Nokia and a basic SIM for 15 euro in order to activate my bank app so that I could check my balance so that I could get my visa so that I could get a job and so on...
But, alas, it couldn't be that simple. When I tried to register on the app it refused to recognize my Irish number because it wasn't the phone number I had used to open the bank account with, which was my American number, which I don't have access to since arriving in Ireland. "Then why did you use it to open the bank account at all?" you might be wondering. Great question! At the time I opened the bank account, I didn't have an Irish number but any number needed to be attached to the account and the guy said it was fine to use an American number and so there you have it.
I had to go back to the bank and have the guy there help me set up the app and change my official number in their system and while I was there I asked if he could check my balance. Nada. This was strange because it had already been several days since the transfer was sent. I contacted my dad and asked him to check the transfer and find out what was going on. Turns out that because it was sent in dollars and not euros, the bank refused to accept it and the money was returned to the origin account. Another transfer was sent, but the account number was wrong and so this one was promptly returned as well. Finally, everything was in order and, as they say, the third time is the charm.
Then it was just a waiting game. From the time the third transfer was sent to when it finally appeared in my account was about four days, which doesn't sound very long, but after weeks of waiting since the initial transfer, it felt like forever. In case you have gotten at all lost in my cluttered telling of this story, here is a friendly reminder of why all of this matters: I needed to prove I had 3,000 euros in an Irish bank account in order to get my visa. Did the transfer arrive in time for my visa appointment? Of course not.
So instead I showed up at my appointment with a printed confirmation of the transfer to prove that it would be in my account...eventually. And that worked! For anyone out there going through a similar process, know that it's tedious, it's frustrating, the bureaucracy is awful, but IT IS POSSIBLE! And look! Proof of my legality: