Law graduate Yousaf Amin was sentenced to six years while his school friend and accomplice Sajad Khan was imprisoned for four years.
Both men admitted fraud last week after their arrest for orchestrating the scam, which they ran from rented offices in Glasgow, Leeds and Luton.
The Herald uncovered the operation, called Training Direct, in March 2008 after a tip-off that migrants were paying hundreds of pounds for an English-language and citizenship course lasting just six hours.
The bogus operation was set up after the introduction of Home Office requirements stating that immigrants who wanted to stay in the UK needed to pass a Life in the UK test.
Crucially, where an immigrant's language skills were not good enough to complete the test, they could still progress towards citizenship if they successfully completed an English for Speakers of Other Languages course.
Demand for courses, which typically lasted nine weeks, was huge and many legitimate colleges across the UK were overwhelmed with applications.
Enquiries by The Herald revealed Training Direct had no authority to offer such qualifications and, after visiting one of the courses, bogus materials and the addresses of those responsible were passed to police.
The court heard that Amin and Khan, both 34 and from Bradford, drove luxury cars while fleecing migrants with their criminal company, Temple and Khan.
Prosecutor Tom Storey told Bradford Crown Court the pair made £500,000 by issuing worthless certificates to people taking the citizenship courses.
Amin was driving a £42,000 Audi Q7 and Khan was using a £36,000 Volkswagen Touareg. Both cars were on finance and both vanished during the police investigation.
The court was told that Amin, who has a law degree from Leeds Metropolitan University, was a serious gambler who had lost £150,000 in casinos in three years. Khan was taking drugs and drinking to excess.
Mr Storey said Training Direct was "overwhelmed" by complaints and ceased trading in 2008.
Jailing Amin, Recorder Jonathan Sandiford told him: "You are a thoroughly dishonest and ruthless individual who is perfectly prepared to exploit other people to make profit for himself."
The judge said Khan was his "willing sidekick" in a large-scale confidence fraud targeting very vulnerable victims.
Detective Chief Inspector Mick Lawrenson, of West Yorkshire Police's Economic Crime Unit, said: "This was an organised and intricate crime which left hundreds of people across the UK out of pocket with useless citizenship certificates that wouldn't help them in the process to be awarded UK citizenship.
"The investigation showed us that Amin was the brains behind the operation and he used Khan's name and had him fronting the businesses.
"Amin clearly knew he had a time limit for the deception and tried to fob complaints off as long as possible before printing fake certificates as a last resort and then finally closing down his businesses and disappearing."
The scam was first uncovered in Glasgow after The Herald checked the credentials of Training Direct, which claimed to be registered with the legitimate certification body City & Guilds.
A spokesman for City & Guilds said at the time: "We don't have anyone called Training Direct as an approved centre either in Glasgow or anywhere else. There is no way we would approve any qualification of this nature, which lasted only one day."
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