10,000 working here illegally on bogus foreign student visas
UP to 10,000 foreign nationals are working here illegally after entering the country on bogus student visas, the Irish Independent has learned.
They represent almost one in three of the students who come here from outside the EU.
The extent of the bogus student scam was revealed last night by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern as the Government prepared to tighten up the legislation on rogue colleges and students abusing the educational system.
The investigation reveals:
- One college, which was under investigation in Dublin city, was found to have had no desks, blackboards, books or papers, when inspectors called there. Officials had difficulty gaining access there and after their visit reported back that it was effectively being used as residential accommodation.
- Another college, with two branches in Dublin, had no students in attendance on two separate visits by inspectors.
- In a third college in Cork where 70 students were registered, there was none present when inspectors called on one occasion and only eight students on another visit.
Evidence uncovered by the Departments of Justice and Education has already resulted in garda investigations into a number of suspected colleges.
Inquiries by the Garda National Immigration Bureau have led to one file being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions and this is expected to be submitted shortly.
A second file on another college has already been sent to the DPP. Gardai are currently awaiting a decision on prosecution while in a third case a director of a Dublin college was convicted of deception charges under the Theft and Fraud Offences Act.
Latest figures reveal some 31,200 students from outside the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein) are currently registered by the education sector.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern last night said the Government would not tolerate bogus colleges, which he said were undermining "the vast number of reputable education institutions".
He said: "My department and the garda immigration unit will continue to clamp down on the bogus colleges and intend underpinning a stronger framework for the future to provide greater opportunities for the reputable institutions."
According to an internal government document, there are few problems in the higher education sector where there are about 12,000 EEA students as fees are paid and the courses available make it less likely that there will be significant numbers of economic migrants among them.
The main focus of departmental inquiries is on English language and further education colleges amid serious concerns that a significant group are coming into the country under false pretences.
They initially sign on as students and then either drift quickly away to take up posts in the jobs market while others overstay their visas to allow them secure work here by enrolling in courses year after year to allow them continued access to job vacancies.
Officials stressed most colleges are reputable and offer quality education. They said the suspected bogus visa applicants represented a small minority of the overall numbers coming here to study.
The international student sector is worth €900m annually to the economy and the Government is planning reforms to promote the sector overseas and to clamp down on suspected bogus operators.
Tighter controls on the length of time that students can stay here on their visas are being introduced by Mr Ahern in a legislative overhaul of the immigration area.
His cabinet colleague, Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe, is also bringing in measures compelling colleges to have a quality mark. The move to license colleges has been welcomed by the Irish Council of International Students (ICIS).