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English language students who paid cash to travel company fear losing legal status

Directors of the company are believed to have left Ireland in the last two months.

Image: Shutterstock/panitanphoto

ENGLISH LANGUAGE STUDENTS who handed over cash to a specialist student travel agency at the centre of a Garda fraud probe say they fear losing their legal status in Ireland following the alleged scam. 

The Journal last week reported how gardaí suspect that at least €250k worth of student cash was obtained by directors of the company, who have since left the jurisdiction and are suspected to have travelled to Mexico. 

Gardaí have launched a probe into the alleged fraud and in recent days the issue has also been raised with the Minister for Justice by a Labour TD. 

The travel agency, which had been operating in Ireland for a number of years, acted as an intermediary for prospective English language students travelling to Ireland and offered a range of services including securing visas, registering students for classes and finding accommodation for them. 

The English Language Students’ Union (ELSU), which is working to support the students who have been left out of pocket, says that the company simply took the students’ money and did not either secure visas or register them for classes. 

This website has seen multiple emails to prospective students from English language schools in Dublin telling them no payment has been made to the school by the agency in question. 

The Journal has also spoken with some of the affected students – many of whom now have strong links with communities here and who say they face being left living in Ireland illegally if something is not done.

Visas 

English language students in Ireland can apply for what is known as a Stamp 2 visa which allows them to both work and study in Ireland. However, their stay in Ireland is dependent on them continuing their studies.

Attendance rates in school are linked to visas. If a student attends less than 85% of classes, they risk having their visa cancelled.

One woman, who is pregnant, used the company at the centre of the probe to renew her visa – having already been in Ireland for a period of time and taking classes here. She previously used the same company without any issues, she said. 

As they made plans to continue their stay here, she and her partner made applications via the company to renew their visas and to apply for further courses. 

The school the woman thought she had been enrolled in informed her they had no record of her registration and that no money had been given to the school. 

“I am pregnant, in a country where I must be fine with my immigration papers so as not to have problems with my baby,” the woman said. The company had taken advantage of her situation, she said, and had not given her any answers as to what happened the cash she paid over on behalf of her family. 

Another woman described how she saved for five years to be able to live and work in Ireland. The woman, who is from Bolivia and has already taken English language courses here, said she paid the equivalent of €2,500 to be able to continue to study here and to renew her registration in the school and update her visa. 

Similar to the first story, the woman was told that she was registered to a specific school and that all the admin regarding her visa had been carried out. 

When she attempted to contact the school, she was told it had no record of her.

“For years, I saved and saved to be able to go here. My friends had used this same company before and had no problems. But now I have lost everything.”

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The Journal has agreed not to name the students involved as the victims of the alleged fraud are fearful that they might come to the attention of immigration services. 

The ELSU has been in contact with the Department of Justice about the alleged fraud. 

Labour’s Education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has also written to the Justice Minister to ask her if she will grant all non-EU students already in the State who have been victims of this alleged fraud two free eight-month visas.

No answer had been received by yesterday afternoon, the Dublin Bay North TD said. 

Gardaí in North Dublin are conducting the probe and are liaising with their Mexican colleagues. 

A spokesman confirmed that investigations into multiple allegations of fraud are ongoing.

He said: “Gardaí are investigating a number of incidents of fraud that occurred in the Dublin area between March 2020 and June 2021.

“No arrests have been made, investigations are ongoing.”

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