English language students say they are being duped by schools that charge them thousands to come to Ireland and leave them facing poverty and homelessness on arrival.
It is estimated Ireland currently has more than 100,000 Stamp 2 English Language students living here.
Some save for years to earn the money to come to Ireland and learn English – with schools actively advertising places all over the world.
When they arrive, however, they are only permitted to work a maximum of 20 hours a week, with a rental crisis and soaring cost of living to contend with.
About 60% of the students are Brazilian nationals and, on The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Newstalk reporter Sarah Madden spoke to some of them to find out how they are surviving.
One student who spoke to Sarah under the assumed name ‘Lucas’ said the problems begin with the schools.
“When I was in Brazil there was a lot of support,” he said. “‘Oh we can help you get your documents in the bank to open your student account and we can do this for your visa’ – blah, blah blah.”
“When I got here it was different. I didn’t see the support I was told about.
“I remember I had to miss one or two classes because I was struggling with the PPS thing - going to INTREO to get a PPS number. I missed school one or two days and the school told me to go back to Brazil if I couldn’t stay in the country.”
'It's a trap'
He said many students find that there are no classes available for them when they arrive.
“The classes are so full they don’t have enough classrooms,” he said. “So, what happens is they make up classrooms and everybody from the school has to go through the class to go to the toilet.
“This is not good because we pay thousands and thousands before coming to this country to study.”
Lucas said the school painted Ireland ‘like Disneyland’ – with students easily able to work and study.
“Maybe some people are able to survive working only 20 hours but I think the way it is in this country, with these rules that were set before and how life is so expensive now – it is really a trap,” he said.
“It is a trap in any kind of meaning.”
He said it is impossible to live in Ireland on 20 hours work.
“You spend €800 a month to share a room with two or three people and that is what you make nearly per month from your wages,” he said.
“How are you going to pay for electricity or food or your bills you know? And you still have to have to try to socialise - you have a life to live - so it is really, really mad.”
Sarah also spoke to a South American student going by the name of Natalia who said she found herself homeless for three weeks shortly after arriving.
She was living with an Irish family, who told her to leave with very little warning after they agreed to take in a family from Ukraine.
Natalia said she agreed with the decision – but was left with nowhere to go.
She said she spent some nights sleeping at the airport.
“One night I arrived around 10pm or 11pm – I don’t remember I was very, very tired,” she said.
“I sat there thinking until about 3am or 4am in the morning and I can’t stand up.
“In that moment I fear I am in shock, but I am alone. I cry many, many times alone. This is real.”
Sarah noted that Spain has increased its working from 20 hours to 30 hours per week due to the cost of living crisis.
Campaigner Fiachra Ó Luan from the English Language Students Union of Ireland said there are a range of new regulations needed:
- Irish embassies around the world should monitor all social media advertising of Ireland.
- A registry of agencies should be introduced so bad actors can have their licence revoked.
- Schools should be permitted to sell a course unless they have a bed in a house to go along with it.
- The Department of Higher Education must take on a role in regulating the sector.
“This is people’s life savings we’re playing with,” he said.
“They are net contributors massively – both in terms of the money they bring into the country upon arrival but also in terms of the labour they give to the country.
“It is worth about €2bn but that is official figures. We would say a lot of businesses - particularly in Dublin and the major cities - could not survive without these people.”
In a statement, the Department of Higher Education said the sector is largely privately run.
It said they have a responsibility to inform students about the “particular issues and costs” they can expect to encounter in Ireland.
Reporting from Sarah Madden.