Language schools sector to be reformed

Some English language schools have abused their status to act as fronts for people seeking work in Ireland, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has warned.

He said he and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald brought the matter to Cabinet yesterday and will now move to reform the sector.

His comments follow the closure on Monday of a fifth international college since last month, Allied Irish College in Cork, where 60 students are believed to have been registered.

The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) said it had three people registered with it as attending there since last February. The college has been on a register since December 2012 on which courses must be included for non-EEA applications to be eligible for student or restricted work visas, but INIS understands it has been removed from the register since its closure came to light on Monday afternoon.

The Department of Justice said INIS is in contact with Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), which operates the register, in relation to two learners who have contacted QQI. “It had come to the attention of INIS in April 2014 that Allied Irish College may have had a shared ownership with Millennium College. This fact had not been communicated to the authorities,” the department said.

Millennium College Dublin closed on Friday, and the Irish Council for International Students said it is aware of around 300 people who had been on its English language courses. INIS said an investigation into the operation of Millennium College is ongoing and it would not be appropriate to comment further on that probe, including with regard to Allied Irish College.

Mr Quinn said private sector schools are not properly and fully regulated, and the Government is taking action to have a quality education mark for all schools.

“The background to the closure of a number of these schools is that they, as recognised schools, they were entitled to attract students from outside the European Economic Area to attend courses here, and consequently the students got visas to be in Ireland as a student and to have some work opportunities in relation to that,” he said.

“There is fairly clear evidence to suggest that has been abused by a minority of such schools, where in effect the school has been used as a front to provide access at a cost to the Irish labour market. We may very well have one or two other closures as well.”

Millennium College Dublin was the fourth in the capital to close in a month last Friday. INIS and the Garda National Immigration Bureau suspended the issuing of visas and residence permission to non-EEA nationals seeking to enrol there after no proof of student attendances up to mid-February could be provided during an inspection last month. Similar suspensions were placed on three other colleges.

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