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Garda probe over suspicions English language students conned out of €250k by travel company

Directors of the company are believed to have left Ireland in the last six weeks.

Image: Shutterstock/Diego Cervo

GARDAÍ HAVE LAUNCHED a fraud probe into a specialist student travel agency suspected of having obtained large volumes of cash from English language students in Ireland on a false basis. 

The English Language Students’ Union, which is working to support the students who have been left out of pocket, estimates that up to €250,000 was obtained from them by the company in question. 

Directors of the company are believed to have left Ireland in the last six weeks and are suspected to have travelled to Mexico. 

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 agency ran ads for its services on social media sites and reached most of its prospective customers in that manner. 

Businesses such as these are extremely common across the globe and are particularly so across Central America, due to the popularity of Ireland as a destination for people seeking to study and work in Europe. 

Fiachra Ó Luain, spokesperson for the English Language Students’ Union, said that from last year students were asked to pay upfront for a place in an English language school.

They were told that they could then come to Ireland when in-person classes resumed as Covid-19 restrictions eased, Ó Luain said. 

However, according to Ó Luain, when the students then contacted the schools they believed they were registered for, they were told the school had no record of them and that they were never registered for any classes. 

Hundreds of people have lost their savings, Ó Luain said. The average amount lost by these students is believed to be around the €2,000 mark. But there have been people who have lost over €7,000. 

In one case, a pregnant woman and her partner lost over €6,000, according to Ó Luain.

The Journal 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. 

English language students 

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.

Ó Luain described how the vast majority of students coming to Ireland could be considered financially vulnerable. 

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“For most of the people we see coming in, they are coming from countrieswhere wages are much lower than here and it takes years to save up a couple of grand. Some are now in a position that they are broke and have no school to attend and for many, they don’t really know anybody.  These investigations can take years so we are calling on the Government to step in and help these people.”

Mexican Senator Rogelio Israel Zamora Guzmán of Mexico City, who spoke to union members in Ireland last week on a Zoom call, has promised to do everything in his power to have those responsible brought to justice. 

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.”

The Journal attempted to contact the company via phone and several email addresses that had in the past been used successfully by prospective students to contact the agency. No response was received by time of publication.

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