Student Visa Counseling Services


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.

MAA

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