Student Visa Counseling Services

Posted 28/01/2015 by maavn
Categories: Commentary

Tags: , , , ,
Courtesy of US Embassy-Hanoi

Courtesy of US Embassy-Hanoi

There’s a new consulting kid on the block. The announcement below, which recently appeared in my inbox, is from a US-based company (I’ll call it “Student Visa Company”) that is looking for education agents in Vietnam and elsewhere to refer students to their visa counseling service.

Visa Problems?
A Former Vice-Consul is Here to Help

“Student Visa Company” was founded by a former US visa official to help legitimate students to:

Understand the US student visa process
Understand how to properly use a US student visa
Understand if they qualify for a US student visa
Present their best case to the consular officer and maximize their chance of visa success

Were looking for agents to join our associate network.  The benefits to agents are:

A higher probability of student visa issuance
Additional revenue paid to you as commission
When you refer students to our service, the student gets a discount also

Here are the three services that “Student Visa Company” offers:

  • Visa Appeal: $1,495.00
  • Visa Application Review: $495.00
  • Visa Practice Interview: $995.00

This disclaimer appears in every section:

Note: We are not a part of the US government and are providing a consulting service to help prepare legitimate students for their visa interview. We do not guarantee visa issuance results for people who use our service, nor do we engage in assisting any person to obtain a visa fraudulently. Any information provided to “Student Visa Company” can and may be referred to the anti-fraud unit of the US Embassy without notice to any applicant if we think you’re fraudulent, a threat to US public security, or attempting to enter the US illegally. We want to help legitimate students with the visa process, and do not tolerate fraud or visa abuse in any form. We fully cooperate with requests for applicant information from the US Department of State in regards to fraud, visa abuse and other areas of visa ineligibility.

While I like to see the introduction of new products and services, or the improvement of existing ones, I wonder about the wisdom of this business model, especially in Vietnam, including its price point and the use of online (i.e., Skype) vs. in-person mock interviews.

I also disagree with this statement on the company’s website:

 “Student Visa Company”was created by a former US diplomat who recognized that there is not enough information out there to help qualified students navigate the student visa process.

The poor information available to students is due to a knowledge vacuum created by the US State Department’s desire to not provide so much information that it can be abused by those who don’t qualify for visas.  This is, in fact, a good reason to be less than candid when your job is to keep troubled people out of the US.

In fact, there is plenty of information available from official sources.  The problem is that most students and parents are taking advice and receiving guidance from agents who aren’t familiar with the process and are therefore not in a position to properly prepare students for the visa interview.  The really “bad apples” facilitate visa fraud.

Counseling vs. Scripting

While most education agents don’t do a very good job at it, they do offer this service to their clients. In most cases, their approach mirrors that of the Vietnamese education system.  Give students a long list of questions and answers and tell them to go home and memorize them.  Then have them regurgitate everything in mock interviews.  This means that students go to their interview scripted and are often unable participate in a spontaneous dialogue with the consular officer – to their detriment.  Many agents also supply fraudulent documents, for an additional fee, of course, including transcripts, bank statements and other supporting documents.

The best type of visa counseling is exactly what EducationUSA and the US State Department recommend:  Keep it simple, focus on the basics, don’t use fraudulent documents and provide honest answers to the questions asked by the consular officer.  All of this information is available on the websites of the US Embassy in Hanoi and the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).  In addition, students can consult EducationUSA advisers free of charge for basic information.  (When I was country director of the Institute of International Education-Vietnam, which administered EduucationUSA centers at the time, the issuance rate was very high for the students we counseled because of the accuracy of the information and the quality of the advising.)

 It’s Not Rocket Science!

keepcalmitsnotrocketscienceHere are some excerpts from an essay I wrote in 2013 entitled The US Student Visa: It’s Not Rocket Science! (The Vietnamese version is Xin visa du học mỹ: Dễ hay Khó?, Applying for a US Student Visa: Easy or Difficult?)

Contrary to what many students and parents believe, based on rumors and a sea of misinformation, the student visa process is not rocket science. You simply need to prove to the consular officer that you meet these three criteria:

  •    You are a bona fide student (i.e., you’re not trying to use a nonimmigrant visa to emigrate)
  •    You have the ability to pay
  •    You plan to return to your home country

All of the questions that the man or woman on the other side of that thick glass window asks revolve around these points. Consular officers make their decisions – to issue, reconsider pending additional documentation or deny – based on the answers to their questions, their training and their intuition. This means telling the truth, using authentic documents, and explaining your plans in a logical and coherent manner.

Do consular officers make mistakes? Sometimes; they are human, after all. But they generally do their very best to make an important decision – for you and others – in a very short period of time. It’s the stated goal of the US government to welcome as many international students as possible to the nation’s colleges and universities.

So, as you prepare for that all-important visa interview, a short chat that will determine whether or not you study in the US, focus on the basics and keep it simple. Review the criteria, think about how to tell your unique story in a way that makes sense and don’t “memorize your lines.” (Consular officers can’t stand hearing that you want to study in the US “because it has the best higher education system in the world, etc.”) Tell them why YOU chose to study in the US, what YOUR plans are and how YOU will benefit from this life-changing experience.


The Student (F-1) Visa As a One-Way Ticket (To Emigration)

Posted 24/01/2015 by maavn
Categories: Commentary

Tags: , , , , ,

SEVISLet’s face it – some international students are using the F-1 as a relatively easy way to emigrate.  This is one of the reasons why the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is classified as a high fraud post, in addition to issues with the Fiancé(e) (K-1) visa.  In other words, said students most definitely DO NOT meet the first criterion of the visa interview process, which is that they are bona fide students.

Here’s how it works.  Don’t worry, dear reader; once again, I’m not divulging any state secrets here.  As with the quickie F-1 transfer, described in a previous post, the cat’s been out of the bag for a long time on this scam, too.  The difference is that this is beyond gaming the system; it’s visa fraud, pure and simple.

  1. Apply to City Community College because you’ve heard “on the street” or from your friendly agent that it’s pretty easy to get a get a visa to attend that school.
  2. Put your time in for the obligatory quarter or semester.
  3. Make like a magician, fly the coop and disappear, i.e., blend into the population.  The US is a large country in terms of both geography and population, plus there are many areas with high concentrations of Vietnamese-Americans.  That means there are lots of opportunities to work illegally, under the radar, as it were, in a relative’s business, for example.

City Community College, which in good faith admitted these students, is victimized in at least two ways:  1)  it loses students, in some cases, a lot of students; and 2) it runs the risk of coming under official scrutiny as a host institution from which international students are violating their immigration status.

What to do?  In Vietnam – Find out which agents are aiding and abetting the commission of visa fraud, and expose them.  In the US – Locate the violators, deport them back to Vietnam and place their names on an eternal blacklist.  Easier said than done, I realize, in a country of 319 million scattered throughout 9.857 million km² (3.806 million sq miles).  With each deportation and the media coverage it would receive in the sending country, however, this type of fraud would probably wither on the vine faster than you can say Jack Robinson.


The Monsanto Vietnam “Charm Offensive” Continues

Posted 22/01/2015 by maavn
Categories: Commentary

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Courtesy of Monsanto

Courtesy of Monsanto

Why are these children smiling?  Is it because they’re excited at the prospect of tasting the sweetness of Monsanto’s generosity through its most recent philanthropic activity – in cooperation with Room to Read?  Naw, it’s just a file photo, but you get the idea.  Vietnamese children, smiling faces, Monsanto’s latest charitable gesture in a country devastated by one of its signature products, Agent Orange.  Flashbacks to that classic 1974 dramatic thriller, The Parallax View.

This is also the company that is challenging the food sovereignty of Vietnam and many other countries with the introduction of highly controversial genetically modified crops.  To date, Monsanto, which had 2013 revenue of $15 billion, has invested a grand total of $220,000 (70k + 150k) in scholarships for students at the Vietnam National University of Agriculture (check it out my introduction to an article entitled The Audacity of Monsanto & the Short Memory of the Vietnam National University of Agriculture by Chuck Palazzo) and now this program.

Like I said in the aforementioned post, Monsanto execs must be smiling like a Cheshire cat at how easy it is to buy access and influence in a country that was once on the receiving end of one of its most infamous products and is now a living laboratory for genetically modified corn to be used for food and animal feed.

Not All Money is Created Equal

Nguyen Hong Loi and child born without eyes in Agent Orange children's ward at Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Nguyen Hong Loi, 24, cares for a child born without eyes in the Agent Orange children’s ward of Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. About 500 of the 60,000 children delivered each year at the maternity hospital, Vietnam’s largest, are born with deformities, some because of Agent Orange, according to doctors. May 1, 2013. Photo by Drew Brown

This is what I described in that previous post about the scholarship program as the Trojan horse approach to improving the bottom line, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, according to one media reference.  I once advised a well-known student organization that they should be careful who they take money from in the form of corporate sponsorship.  One example was an organization that promotes the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco-related products.  The problem is most nonprofits never met a donor whose money they weren’t happy to take.  The moral of the story is choose carefully and ethically, when it comes to sponsorship.  Consider the source.

The Ultimate Expression of Corporate Social Responsibility

The ultimate corporate responsibility for companies like Monsanto, Dow and Diamond Shamrock would be to take responsibility – in partnership with their client back in the day, the US government – by creating a superfund, substantially more than the token 220k donated thus far, to assist with clean-up efforts and to help alleviate the suffering of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th generations of Vietnamese affected by dioxin poisoning.


Nearly Half of all Int’l Students in the US Enrolled at 100 Institutions

Posted 19/01/2015 by maavn
Categories: Commentary, Updates

Tags: , , ,

You’ve heard about concentration of wealth and income.  What about international students?  It might surprise you to learn that 429,921 international students out of 886,052 in the US are enrolled at 100 institutions.  To put this in perspective keep in mind that about 1500 US colleges and universities out of nearly 4,000 regionally accredited schools reported international enrollments ranging from 10 to over 11,000 last year.  New York University (NYU) claimed the top spot, according to Open Doors 2014.

While the top five host states are California (over 100,000), New York, Texas, Massachusetts, and Illinois, these 100 colleges and universities are spread out over 27 states, also including Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.), Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin

Two related facts:

  • the top 200 enroll over two-thirds of all international students
  • the top 300 enroll over 75% of all international students

Some of these institutions are a “brand” and have no need to recruit internationally.  They built it (a long time ago) and they continue to come – in droves.  Many, however, have very active international recruitment operations.

Another way of looking at the overall statistical picture is that about 80% of institutions with 10 or more international students enroll less than 20% of the national total.  639, or 43%, host fewer than 100 international students.  Many of these schools are new to international recruitment, pressured by demographic and financial imperatives and the concomitant need to make up for the current shortfall of domestic students by recruiting beyond the borders of the US.


“What Students in China Have Taught Me About U.S. College Admissions”

Posted 12/01/2015 by maavn
Categories: Commentary

Tags: , ,

So what’s an international admission officer to do? These individuals admittedly have their work cut out for them in a way that domestic admission officers do not. Domestic admission officers have mounds of historical data upon which they can project matriculation percentages, future GPA, and graduation rates. International admission officers—in order to do things the right way—must get comfortable making decisions with incomplete information and exercising their discretion. They have to look past documents, which can be easily falsified. They have to look past standardized test scores because the emphasis on these numbers distorts the entire high school experience. They have to spend time in China and other foreign countries, and employ all means of modern communication technology to try to get a sense of each student. In short, they have to practice true holistic admissions.  (my bold)
“What Students in China Have Taught Me About U.S. College Admissions” by Terry Crawford, The Atlantic, 6.1.15

no cheating As this excellent article by Terry Crawford makes clear, an acceptable way to gain a competitive edge in the US higher education application process in China is to cheat.  While you can rant and rave about the immorality of this state of affairs, this is the reality and Mr. Crawford’s company, InitialView, and others like it are meeting a real need in the marketplace by encouraging institutions recruiting in China to adopt true holistic approach to admissions through the use of technology.

If you will permit me to indulge in some “moralizing lite” for just a moment, involving young people as co-conspirators in their own admission process is a sad lesson to teach them about academic honesty and honesty in general, in my opinion.  (As a counterpoint to excessive moralizing, however, it must be acknowledged that parents and students are forced to adapt to situations not envisioned by those who create admission policies in very different cultural contexts.)  The silver lining is that students admitted to US and other foreign secondary and postsecondary institutions will quickly discover its importance, along with the risks of academic dishonesty.  In the meantime, the more tools institutions have at their disposal that enable them to “look past documents” and make better informed admission decisions about their applicants, the better.


Close the SEVIS Record Transfer Loophole Now!

Posted 05/01/2015 by maavn
Categories: Commentary

Tags: , , ,

To kick off the (Solar) New Year this is the first in a trilogy of posts that involve either gaming the system or visa fraud.  The remaining two…

  • Financial Document Fraud & Visa Applications
  • The F-1 (Student Visa) As a Ticket To Emigration

will be posted by the end of the month.  Here’s to another year of Information, Insights & (Occasionally) Intrigue!

SEVISIt wasn’t always this way, i.e., that international students could say they want to attend one US higher education institution but are in fact planning to enroll in another.  Here’s how to game the system and walk through a gaping loophole in US immigration law in three easy steps.  And, yes, the cat’s been out of the bag for a long time so I’m not spilling any beans here.

  1. Apply to Podunk University because you’ve heard “on the street” or from your friendly agent that it’s pretty easy to get a get a visa to that school.  That’s called piggybacking off a school’s hard-earned reputation.
  2. Arrive in the US and inform the Podunk international office that, oh, so sorry, you changed your mind and decided to attend another university in, say, Orange County (Quận Cam), San Jose or wherever you happen to have relatives, in most cases.
  3. After your SEVIS record has been transferred, which Podunk U is legally obligated to do, enroll in the local college of choice.  Voilà, mission accomplished!

The end result is that Podunk loses a student and the time/money, above and beyond the application fee, that it took to process her or his application.  While this is not visa fraud because it is, after all, perfectly legal, it IS the stuff of smoke and mirrors.

What can US higher education colleagues do to fight back?

  • Long-term:  Lobby the US government to close this loophole – individually, as a group and/or through a professional association like NAFSA.
  • Short-term:  In the meantime, charge students a hefty fee and use that money to cover any additional costs and for scholarships for qualified and deserving international students.

Bottom Line

International students should be required to study for at least a quarter or a semester before transferring, as was the case in the past.

Suggestions or thoughts?


Happy Solar New Year! Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!

Posted 01/01/2015 by maavn
Categories: Announcement, Events


Wishing Everyone a New Year Filled With Peace, Joy, Good Health and Happiness!  


“The key question to keep asking is, ‘Are you spending your time on the right things?’ Because time is all you have.”  (Randy Pausch, 1960-2008)


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