Police officers and immigration agents raided establishments in Paphos on Sunday, arresting two international students who were found working without authorization, while critics are calling on the state to ease restrictions and allow off-campus work.
According to police, law enforcement officers including immigration agents from Paphos and Larnaca as well as labour administrators, raided five business establishments in the western town on Sunday as part of a clampdown on illegal employment.
Officers raided three pubs and two restaurants in Yeroskipou and Chloraka, Paphos district, where they carried out inspections on 32 individuals, 7 of whom were Republic of Cyprus citizens, 14 were Europeans, and 11 foreign nationals from third countries.
'We have information that some students are associated with law firms that encourage students to file applications for political asylum'
According to an official statement, two international students from non-European countries were arrested on suspicion of working illegally in Yeroskipou. Police said the two 21-year-old males had been working in two different bars in violation of their student visas.
Paphos police’s Petty Crime unit is also investigating the owners of the two pubs in question for providing illegal employment, while seven others were also found to have been working unlawfully in four of the five raided locations.
Owners of the four establishments, where seven others were found to have been working illegally, were fined on the spot by labour administrators. No other arrests were reported during or after the raids.
Authorities have stepped up crackdown efforts on illegal work in the last few years, with immigration agents increasingly tagging along during raids in an effort to combat immigration violations in the workplace.
Critics cry foul
But critics have been calling on the state to find legal avenues for international students to be allowed to work, citing examples in other countries where part-time off-campus employment is permitted.
Pambos Neophytou, a representative for SAISTEK, an association for local colleges who offer students visas to international students, said it was unfair that foreign students pay money to get educated but are not given an opportunity to work on the island.
Neophytou, who says asylum seekers can legally work without restrictions, called on authorities to do more in order to regulate the issue and crack down on unmerited asylum applications.
Last month, the SAISTEK president went on a news talk show on television where he pointed fingers at some lawyers.
“We have information that some students are associated with law firms that encourage students to file applications for political asylum,” Neophytou said.
Neophytou clarified that he did not believe there was any justification for students to file for asylum with no basis, but he said students were “being urged” to apply on the notion that foreign students who file for asylum will be able to find empoyers without restrictions or red tape.
According to current regulations, foreign students from non-EU countries can accept employment in specific fields, typically manual labour in agrarian jobs, during school session up to 20 hours per week, which is part-time for immigration purposes, or work full time during summer vacation and school breaks.
Reform falls short
Republic of Cyprus Interior Minister Nikos Nouris, who has defended a tough approach on migration, is urgently seeking a constitutional amendment to shorten the time of due process for asylum applicants.
Last month Nouris described a set of government-sponsored bills as a “holistic approach” to immigration, but critics said some of the proposals could be unconstitutional such as bypassing the Supreme Court during the appeal process.
But critics said the proposals did not offer a comprehensive or balanced approach towards immigration, as it only targeted students but not agents who may mislead them and lure them to the island on false promises.
Hotel owners have also been lobbying the government to ease visa restrictions on foreign students, who cannot work in the hospitality industry unless their field of study is related to this type of work.
Neophytou believes these restrictions and red tape are pushing students towards filing for asylum, a trend which he condemned.
The international educator said Cyprus could become a “global education village” through both traditional programmes of study or remote learning, but this would not be possible if students don’t have the right to work.
“You have a student who studies accounting and you don’t allow that person to work at an audit firm not even for just making photocopies there,” Neophytou said.
Colleges feel singled out
He also criticized another government proposal that introduced an English language requirement for students attending colleges, essentially requiring language proficiency as a admission criterion without allowing schools to run English as a Second Language (ESL) programmes.
Neophytou said this was discrimination against colleges, saying universities are not being told not to run preparatory language programmes for their international student population, while clarifying that such programmes were permitted by law for any higher education institution.
“This is state intervention,” Neophytou argued, saying that political asylum was an entirely different issue from the academic issue.
Neophytou said the state rightly is fighting against the abuse of the political asylum process as well as combating fake marriages, but he drew a line saying “colleges should not be singled out.”