Language school closes branches
Hundreds of education visa holders stranded
Hundreds of education visa holders are stranded after inlingua schools abruptly closed Florida locations.
International students in Florida on F-1 education visas were thrown into crisis this week when their chain of English-language training schools suddenly closed.
inlingua schools — which operated branches in Boca Raton, Weston, Aventura, Doral, Key Biscayne, Coral Gables, Miami, Orlando and Tampa — closed permanently Nov. 2, and this week sent emails to students directing them to expedite transfers to other language schools.
Under terms of their F-1 visas, the students have 15 days to enroll in a new school and submit certificates of eligibility to remain in the United States.
“We are in trouble right now,” said Nidia Sherbowsky, 51, who attended inlingua’s Doral school over the past 1 ½ years.
The school sent emails to students and staff members on Monday notifying them of the closures, but it provided no explanation, Sherbowsky said.
“They closed the door and didn’t give any information to us,” she said.
Sherbowsky, who is from Holland, said she prepaid her $550 monthly tuition through January and will lose $1,650 if the school cannot provide refunds. Others who prepaid for longer periods lost even more, she said.
As recently as last week, the school sent emails offering 10 percent discounts to students who prepaid their tuition for a year, she said.
Miami resident Belen Zerpa said she handed over a $6,850 check on Oct. 31 at the same Doral branch for her daughter-in-law, Donatella Penta, to begin a year of English language studies starting in January.
“They didn’t say a thing” about any imminent closure, she said. “Professors were coming in and out, saying, ‘See you Monday.’” Penta, who is from Venezuela, is not in the country on a visa and is not endangered by the transfer deadline, Zerpa said. “We’re worried about the money, because it’s a lot,” she said.
Des Levin, president of TALK English Schools, which has branches in Davie, Aventura and Miami, said inlingua officials contacted competitors before the closures and asked them to accept transfers of the displaced students.
“We said, ‘Yes, we definitely will do the best we can to mitigate the students’ losses the best we can,” he said.
Efforts to reach officials of the company’s Florida operation were not successful on Wednesday or Thursday.
Sherbowsky said promotional materials indicated the school had about 600 students across Florida. Levin said he heard the school’s enrollment totaled about 500.
Emails from inlingua alerting its students and staff about the closing that were posted online this week identified two companies as inlingua’s owners: I.F. Multicultural Interactive Solutions and TLG The Learning Group. The two companies are listed along with five others as defendants in a federal “adversary” bankruptcy proceeding against Leonidas Ortega Amador, an Ecuadorian businessman whose LinkedIn page states he served as a Inlingua board member from January 2015 to January 2017.
A news release updated in March 2017 identified Amador as vice president and manager of inlingua Language School and said he was recruited to “turn around their operations.”
In that role, he “coordinated the expansion of the business by obtaining capital from other investors,” among other tasks, the release said.
The Florida Division of Corporations website identifies Inlingua Investments LLC as managed by MCOA Management LLC, 5201 Blue Lagoon Drive, Suite 980, in Miami. That company, according to the division website, is managed by Marcia C. Ortega of Miami.
The Florida company was an independent licensee of inlingua International Ltd., which owns the inlingua trademark and publishes instruction media pertaining to the inlingua teaching method, said Jurg Heiniger, the company’s managing director, by email on Thursday.
Headquartered in Bern, Switzerland, inlingua identifies itself on its website as a global network of more than 300 independent licensed language training centers. Established in 1968, the “inlingua method” focuses on “spoken language and active examples, which make our classes lively and fun,” according to the company’s global website.
Asked by email whether the global operation will refund prepaid tuition fees to students of the Florida schools, Heiniger responded: “We also found out on Monday that all Florida schools
“They closed the door and didn’t give any information to us.”
Nidia Sherbowsky, a student of the school from Holland
have been shut down. The management of the schools is assisting their students with visa issues, and it promised to get back to them regarding refund. This information was sent to the students yesterday. I hope that a solution will be found for all of them.”
However, Zerpa and Sherbowsky said they’ve received no communication from the Florida company regarding refunds.
Dominic Halley-Roarke, recently hired as a teacher at the school’s Key Biscayne branch, said he knew something was wrong when he didn’t receive his first paycheck in the mail in mid-October as promised. “They told us tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow,” he said.
Halley-Roarke said he is still owed a $720 paycheck from his last two weeks of work at the school.
Levin said the Floridabased inlingua company was a “pretty big player” in the industry of private schools that serve students with education visas. But the industry overall has suffered in recent years, as the United States has been approving a lower percentage of visas, taking longer to process applications, and charging higher fees.
According to statistics maintained by the U.S. Department of State, the number of F-1 educational visas approved by the United States fell from 644,233 in 2015 to 393,573 in 2017.
The Trump administration’s toughened stance on immigration might be part of the reason, he said.
Competition is another reason, according to Allan Goodman, president of the nonprofit Institute of International Education in a CNNMoney.com story. Countries such as Canada, Germany and Australia are making it easier for students to stay in those countries after they graduate and join the work force, the story said.
Other South Florida language schools working to enroll former inlingua students include Uceda School, which has 25 locations in the United States, including in Miami Beach, Boca Raton, Weston and West Palm Beach.
“We are saddened by the fact this event happened and may be affecting students,” CEO Charo Uceda said by phone on Wednesday. The school is offering to transfer inlingua students for free and give them four weeks’ worth of free tuition, Uceda said.
Another is OHLA Language Schools in Coral Gables, Key Biscayne, Boca Raton and Orlando.