Seventeen colleges have been forced to shut down since April 2014, and hundreds of foreign students were left with the possibility that their advance payments or enrolment fees would never be returned. Many of these students were not yet even able to secure their student visas when the colleges were shut down.
The Irish Council for International Students or ICOS believes that even if the reforms will put a stop to these rogue English-language schools in Ireland, there should be measures in place to protect the students and help those who are already in Ireland but still do not have immigration permits. The ICOS hopes that they will be able to work with the authorities on the immigration issues of the affected students as well, according to Sheila Power, an ICOS director.
Ms. Power said that foreign students were allowed to work in Ireland even if they were holding student visas, but now the one-year visa that was previously granted had been reduced to eight months for students taking courses that would last for six months. She is worried that this would sway foreign students to select other countries for overseas studies.
Justice Fitzgerald on the other hand said that the Irish immigration system was obviously violated by these schools and the Irish government is making sure that the so-called “visa factories” and the people behind them would be eradicated. She said that these people operate their business primarily to facilitate immigration for a hefty fee but were not interested in giving the students the quality education they paid for.
These new proposals follow the regulations released late last year wherein only students outside of the European Union enrolled at approved colleges were eligible to be granted student visas to study in Ireland.
Now only universities in the EU that conform to the standards or higher education programs accredited by the awarding bodies in Ireland will be included in the courses where foreign students would be eligible to apply for student visas. Those colleges that provide English-language courses must qualify to the standard that had been set by October 1 this year.
College groups such as Marketing English in Ireland or MEI, with 52 member colleges welcomed the measures presented by the government and said that they were able to help the students that were displaced by the closure of some schools last year. The Private College Network, a newly-formed group said that their members have insurance policies that will protect students in case of school closure. They said that they would be able to comply with the new regulations.