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Challenge to Ireland’s immigration reform upheld

A judge in Ireland has upheld challenges against reforms to overhaul the country’s private English language industry this week. The new legislation was slotted to begin this month and would have required all providers to gain accreditation by qualifying body ACELS in order to appear on an Interim List of providers approved to accept non-EU students.

Dublin-based National Employee Development Training Centre Ltd and Academic Bridge challenged the minister of justice's immigration reform

Unaccredited private providers can continue to accept non-EU immigrants as students without meeting ACELS standards

The policy was announced by Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald in September last year during a visa probe spurred by a storm of school closures. The policy was a temporary solution to clean up the sector while the government rolls out the International Education Mark set to be fully implemented by 2016.

“The Ministers will examine the range of options that are available to progress the reforms in a manner consistent with the High Court decision”

However, Judge Marie Baker’s ruling this week means that unaccredited private providers can continue to accept non-EU immigrants, without meeting ACELS standards.

Baker ruled in favour of complaints lodged by Dublin-based Academic Bridge and National Employee Development Training Centre Ltd saying the terms were too rigid.

Both colleges claim to have hundreds of students enrolled at any time, mostly from outside the EU.

NED Training Centre was previously refused ACELS accreditation. It welcomed the High Court decision, posting a statement on its website which said, “The ACELS brand no longer has any relevance to any Irish college in the issue of visas for courses it operates.”

ACELS, currently operated by QQI but set to be dissolved this year, is no longer accepting new applicants, so the schools argued there were no other alternatives to accredit them for acceptance on to the Interim List.

Baker ruled that “the Minister has unduly fettered her discretion in limiting the set of bodies or persons who may be eligible for inclusion on the Interim List, and that QQI has no power to operate or manage the ACELS system of accreditation for the purpose of admission onto that List”.

The Minister of Justice could appeal the decision or bring in emergency legislation through parliament but has not yet decided on its next course of action.

The ministers released a statement saying they are “fully committed to delivering on the Government’s regulatory reforms” and that they will “examine the range of options that are available to progress the reforms in a manner consistent with the High Court decision, and without prejudice to a possible appeal”.

“The government is committed to maintaining Ireland’s reputation as a high quality destination for international students,” they emphasised.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s representative body for private English language providers, Marketing English in Ireland, is concerned about the impact the decision will have during this calendar year, as it waits for the International Education Mark to be phased in.

“We’re angry that the powers that be weren’t able to produce a structure that didn’t collapse after the first challenge”

“We’re angry that the powers that be weren’t able to produce a structure that didn’t collapse after the first challenge,” CEO David O’Grady told The PIE News.

“MEI feels undermined because our requirement for membership has always been ACELS accreditation– and all our members are [accredited]. Now there’s a question mark over the importance of it.”

Sue Hackett, Manager of Review and Enhancement, International Education at ACELS, however, urged that the judgement has no impact on the validity of the organisation’s accreditation.

“We want to reassure ACELS recognised providers that their status isn’t affected by the judgement nor our system,” she told The PIE News.

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