The number of non-EU students coming here to study increased by 45% in the four years between 2013 and 2017, a study has found.

However, Ireland's attractiveness as a place to study could be hampered by difficulties encountered by students with immigration procedures and with finding both accommodation and employment here, the research finds.

The study entitled Attracting and Retaining International Students, carried out by the European Migration Network, found that students form the largest category of non-EU migrants arriving in Ireland each year, coming ahead of labour migrants, family members and other groups.

Just over 9,300 permits were issued to higher education students in 2013, increasing to around 13,500 in 2017.

It found that China was the top country of origin of full-time so-called international students in State-funded higher education institutions in Ireland.

Malaysia, the US, Canada, India and Saudi Arabia also featured in the top five countries. The majority - almost one third of non-EU  students - are enrolled in health and welfare courses.

International students represent a significant source of income for State-funded colleges, because the colleges are free to charge them significantly higher fees.

A non-EEA student coming to Ireland to study an undergraduate degree can expect to pay annual fees of anywhere between €10,000 and €45,000. This latter fee is charged by Trinity College for its Medicine and some other health science degree courses.

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Sarah Groarke, lead author of the report, said that while Ireland was successfully attracting and retaining increased numbers of higher-level non-EEA students, the report highlights obstacles faced by some students, including delays in immigration registration, securing affordable student accommodation and transition to employment after graduation.

Non-EU students have reported difficulty finding work because employers are not always aware that they are entitled to work under the Third Level Graduate Programme.

Under this programme Ireland allows non-EU students with an honours degree or higher to remain in the State for 12 to 24 months after studies to look for work.

This is designed to help Ireland retain highly-skilled international graduates. Almost 2,090 non-EU students were granted permission to stay under the programme in 2017, up from around 650 in 2012.

The study found that immigration registration delays were also a problem for students.

They reported difficulties scheduling appointments to register or renew their residence permits.

Students said these delays caused them stress and anxiety in relation to their legal status and had a negative impact on their academic experience in Ireland.

"Attracting and retaining international higher education students: Ireland" is part of an EU-wide study conducted by the European Migration Network, which is funded by the European Commission and the Department of Justice and Equality.