Eight private colleges are suing the government for “tens of millions of euros” over a cabinet decision to crackdown on third country nationals who come to Cyprus to study but then apply for asylum, it emerged on Wednesday.
The lawsuit details this created unequal treatment between universities and colleges, as the cabinet decision, taken in July 2020, only targeted the latter and not the former.
As a result, the plaintiffs are claiming unfair competition.
Chairman of the association of private tertiary education institutions Marios Americanos told the Cyprus Mail “the government decided to impose very restrictive measures,” and also failed to give colleges an adjustment period.
“This left us out in the cold for all the students we had admitted for the upcoming academic year and we had to return hundreds of thousands of euros to them.”
Americanos did not seek to divulge the exact amount the colleges were seeking in damages but specified it was in the “tens of millions of euros”.
“We are aware it was a decision taken by the previous government but we have exhausted all possibilities of finding a solution.”
The association had threatened legal measures since 2020 when cabinet rolled out the measure, with Americanos arguing that third-country nationals who arrive in Cyprus as students and end up filing for asylum were a very small percentage of the overall numbers.
The decision to clamp down on foreign students’ asylum applications was taken to discourage potential migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Cyprus ‘disguised’ as prospective students.
Taken by Interior Minister at the time Nicos Nouris, he said between January and when the measure was rolled out, 940 applications were filed.
The country of origin for 646 out of the 940 asylum applicants was India, followed by Nepal with 173, Bangladesh with 53 and Pakistan with 45. All of them entered Cyprus legally, Nouris added.
He also said that 65 per cent of asylum seekers with Indian nationality who arrived in Cyprus before the introduction of the new rules, were in possession of a student visa.
The number of applications was slashed to 57 applications after the cabinet decision, Nouris said at the time.
Cabinet’s decision detailed a ceiling on admissions from third countries – 20 per cent of capacity. This, the colleges said at the time, precludes them from registering any new students from third countries for the next few years until the rate dropped to below 20 per cent.
The government also said students from third countries must have additional academic qualifications to be eligible for admission and it banned admissions from those countries during the summer – June to September.
Americanos said colleges were becoming “the scapegoat of the migration issue to cover the long-standing inaction of the interior ministry” in tackling the problem.
“Students know they do not fulfill the criteria for asylum protection,” Americanos said. He explained that the reason these students mostly filed for asylum is because, as applicants, they could work, whereas as third-country nationals studying in Cyprus, they were not allowed.
Until their application was processed, he said, which could take up to four years, students had the opportunity to work to support themselves during their studies.
Had the application process time been shorter, he said, or if students could work, as per the relevant EU directive, they would not be forced to file for asylum protection.