the realities facing English language students in Ireland

When Sebastian Carvallo Farina recently came to Cork to study English, he was looking forward to an exciting time in a new city far from his native Chile.

The industrial civil engineer has however found a whole other world: that of the street and couch surfing between stays in hostels, when they are not full.

This week alone, he slept on a friend’s sofa until he could return to the hostel where he mainly sleeps.

But in recent weeks, Sebastian has had occasion to sleep on the streets of the city as he could not find rental accommodation or hostels.

He is one of thousands of people who come to Ireland every year to learn English from countries outside the EU. And he’s just one of many students who told the Irish Examiner the past few weeks of difficulty finding accommodation while they are here.

A woman currently studying in Dublin recently bought an old car for €800 to sleep in. Now she has managed to find a couch at a friend’s house.

Sebastian Carvallo Farina had to sleep outside in Cork last weekend. The engineer is one of many who have come to Ireland to study English and are struggling to find accommodation. Photo: Dan Linehan

For Sebastian, his stay at his friend’s house is limited to a few nights until he can return to the hostel – he’s in a spiral of trying to keep a roof over his head. He says every weekend is difficult because tourists have booked the accommodation that Sebastian and others like him live in for the weeks.

He adds: “On weekends, there are no rooms.”

He says workers and students come to cities like Cork and then “find it difficult to carry on business as normal because they can’t find accommodation”.

He adds: “The other thing is people are asking for a lot of rent.”

Paul Brian, an Argentinian who came here in December, got frustrated trying to find a permanent place to stay. He is a student in Dublin and has been sleeping in different places since December.

He says he is shocked by the number of people looking for rental properties. He says:

“Behind me there are thousands of people literally killing to get the same room I’m looking for…and having that experience is horrible because the chance of getting the room is very low.”

For the past few weeks, Paul has been staying with someone who saw his calls on Facebook for accommodation and offered him accommodation for a few weeks until he found more permanent accommodation.

But he says he finds it so difficult to get a visit due to the high number of people looking for rental accommodation in Dublin. He says:

Honestly, I didn’t know before coming that it was like that.

“My experience so far is very bad,” he says. “My first idea was to study English in the UK, but Brexit put an end to that idea. And Ireland is the only country in the EU that speaks English and I had to come here, and the truth is that I am not happy here. But I have to learn English. It is a country that disappointed me.

In addition to searching traditional rental websites, Paul turned to social media in his search, but he’s disappointed by the high number of scammers he’s encountered this way. He says he’s lucky he wasn’t tricked by them.

Paul thinks the government should stop issuing visas to students coming to Ireland to learn English.

The departments respond

A spokesman for the Department of Higher Education said: ‘This matter has not been raised with the Department. The teaching of English in Ireland is primarily a private sector activity and the department plays no role in the accommodation of English speaking students.

The spokesperson then redirected the Irish Examiner‘s requests to the Ministry of Housing.

According to the Department of Justice, international students who enroll in an English-language program on the tentative list of eligible programs must apply for Stamp 2 immigration clearance valid for up to eight months. To be eligible, they must enroll in a program of at least 25 weeks, take classes at least 15 hours per week, attend at least 85% of their classes, and pass an end-of-program exam.

The ministry says it does not aggregate numbers by course type. But according to its most recent statistics, 11,747 visas were granted last year for courses including secondary level, English language and third level up to and including doctorate. This figure was up from 7,821 in 2020, when these courses were hit hard by the pandemic.

In 2019, the year before the pandemic, 17,217 such visas were granted.

Until the end of March this year, 2,662 such visas had been granted.

The owner and director of Atlas English School in Dublin, Nico Dowling, says the accommodation issue is putting a lot of pressure on language schools this year.

He says: “Many of our students are now living with families when they would normally move into flats and other accommodation. So, although we have the families, they don’t free up enough to rotate and bring in new students. »

And he says students who have postponed because of the pandemic are now also filling places here in schools they had paid for but couldn’t take, adding to housing demand.

Dowling says he is not aware of any student attending his school who ended up sleeping rough. But he says a small number of pupils from Atlas School in Dublin have moved to its sister school in Malta due to housing problems in Ireland, while others have chosen to finish their lessons earlier because ‘they can’t find anywhere to stay.

Atlas is looking for more host families to come forward to help welcome English language students –
especially for its summer programs.

Dowling says the school has already taken the decision to limit its number of students for the six-week summer programs due to the lack of accommodation in Dublin, to around 500 to 300 per course.

He explains: “We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where we cannot accommodate students, so we have had to limit our summer programs.”

“We are aware of the increased costs for families, which is another reason why it is so difficult to find host families. What’s going to happen is next year schools will probably raise their prices to pay families more. What has been a big seller for English language schools in Ireland is our host families because they are so welcoming.

On Friday, the Ministry of Housing provided information on the first full operational quarter of the new National Housing First Implementation Plan 2022-2026, aimed at providing the most vulnerable people in the homeless population with housing for the life as well as key health and social support services. According to the data, 58 new supported rentals started in the first quarter of 2022.

A spokesperson told the Irish Examiner“The government’s Housing for All plan is focused on addressing supply and affordability issues in the rental market. The plan contains targets, actions and guaranteed public investment of more than €4 billion per year in housing aimed at increasing supply, which will in turn help increase access to affordable rental housing for everyone who needs it.

He said a number of measures have been introduced in an effort to improve security of tenure for tenants under residential tenancies laws.

“This includes strengthened rent pressure zones which now cap rent increases at 2% per year when inflation is higher. Under the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2021, all new tenancies created on or after June 11, 2022 will become indefinite tenancies after six consecutive months of occupancy under the tenancy, without a valid notice of termination has been served.

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