Working with Education Agents: A View from Vietnam

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Image courtesy of NAFSA

Below are a couple of excerpts from a blog post I wrote at the invitation of NAFSA’s International Enrollment Management (IEM) Knowledge Community.  

While there are some indications that growing numbers of students, who are better informed and more empowered than ever, are applying directly to foreign educational institutions – a trend that we should all encourage because it enables colleagues from admitting institutions to exercise more control over the application process – Vietnam, like most sending countries, is still very much an agent-driven market.

Given this reality and the fact that competition is fiercer than ever, colleagues need to develop a long-term and diversified strategy that includes a variety of non-commission-based recruitment tools and techniques, both digital and offline, in addition to developing a quality and ethical agent network.  Working with education agents should be just one of many tools in an institution’s recruitment toolbox. If it’s the only one, your recruitment efforts are doomed to fail in competitive markets.

Here’s a link to the original post, if would like to read it in its entirety on the NAFSA website.  

Peace, MAA

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Student Recruitment at International Schools: A Small Part of the Overall Picture

Secondary-Groundbreaking
Courtesy of Concordia International School Hanoi

These schools are the path of least resistance for colleagues who want to promote their institutions to overseas-bound students, including Vietnamese and expats.  For example, they tend to have guidance counselors who are fluent in English, which facilitates communication and there is little to no bureaucratic red tape associated with a visit.  

The reality, however, is that most of the students in Viet Nam who are planning to study overseas are Vietnamese enrolled in local public and private schools.  I would estimate that the national breakdown is 90% or more from Vietnamese schools.  (This is just an educated guess.)

Access to Vietnamese schools is more problematic, in some cities more than others, because of local rules and regulations.  Foreigners need a permit and schools have been inundated with requests from colleagues and education companies, all of whom are promoting institutions and programs. 

Since the schools’ primary mission is education, outside visits are a much lower priority in terms of staff resources and valuable teaching time.  Unless you know someone at a particular school, it’s very difficult to simply send someone you don’t know (and who doesn’t know you) an email and expect a positive outcome yet alone a response.  

In conclusion, while it’s worth visiting selected international schools, after determining your institution has what their students are looking for, e.g., many welcome the more selective schools, for example, you shouldn’t put too many of your outreach eggs in the international school basket, simply because they’re easier to gain access to.  It could end up being a waste of your precious time and travel/marketing funds.  

Peace, MAA

In Country Representatives: A Tale of Two Models

intl student recruitmentA growing number of educational institutions are turning to in country, including regional, representatives to assist them with international student recruitment.  While this option obviously costs more than other recruitment tools and techniques because it includes the cost of a local salary, benefits (?), and other expenses, including travel and marketing, it can potentially be more productive.  It all depends on your representative, her/his skill, network, and a variety of market conditions. 

There are basically two models from which to choose:

An Independent Consultant:  You hire someone, ideally, a host country national who speaks the language, perhaps has studied overseas, and has a good education-related network.  Your rep essentially works at home, which saves your institution money.  You pay her/him directly via international wire transfer.  Sounds simple, right?  

An Outsourced Consultant:  A host country national who is employed by a legally licensed company but who represents your institution exclusively.  The Viet Nam-based employer assumes legal responsibility for your representative and handles payroll and other administrative issues, in addition to providing “supervision lite”, and offering strategic advice.

The main difference between the two models is that the first is technically illegal while the second is legal.  Regarding the former:  is anyone ever going to call you on it?  Probably not but they could – either within Viet Nam or from abroad.    

The problem is that foreign entities are not permitted to operate in Viet Nam without an official (read legal) presence, i.e., a license.  Consider this food for thought for those who currently employ an independent consultant from afar, or are considering doing so.

Peace, MAA

“Vietnam needs to embrace its history fully”

Those-who-cannot-remember-the-past-are-condemned-to-repeat-it.

This well-known and often misquoted quote by George Santayana (1863-1952), a Spanish-US American philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist who was born in Madrid and died in Rome, literally assumes there is something learned in the first place that has since been forgotten.  This is not the case with people who don’t learn the good, the bad, and the ugly of their country’s history, or any history, for that matter.  

Vũ Viết Tuân, a Vietnamese journalist, recently wrote an article entitled  Khoảng trống lịch sử that was subsequently translated into English with the more descriptive title Vietnam needs to embrace its history fully.  This is a simple yet profound lesson that many countries need to learn, including the United States.  (The first time I began to fill in the gaps of the top-down history I was taught as a child was when I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a high school student.)  

Any culture and civilization that ever existed on our land is a part of our historical legacy.  – Phan Huy Lê (1934-2018)

I should add that Mr. Tuân wrote this article in the context of the recent national high school graduation examination and the death of one of Viet Nam’s greatest historians, Professor Phan Huy Lê, who passed away on 23 June.  

As someone who studied, taught, and conducted research in Germany, I know there is plenty of convincing evidence that this country went to great lengths and was largely successful in overcoming its Nazi past in the spirit of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which means the “struggle to overcome the [negatives of the] past” or “working through the past”.  Sadly, the US has yet to accomplish this goal only as it relates to the American War in Viet Nam, not to mention many other tragedies of US and world history starting with the annihilation of Native American tribes in the 17th century in colonial America.  

While ignorance may very well be bliss, it is not a recommended state of mind for anyone or any society that wishes to learn from its mistakes and not repeat them in the hope of creating a better future.  

Peace, MAA

“Reform Or Eliminate EB-5 Investors Visas Programme: Trump Administration To Congress”

More importantly, reforms are needed to protect against national security risks that allow foreign nationals to invest for the purpose of laundering money or conducting espionage against us.
L Francis Cissna, Director, USCIS

uscis_logo-white-backgroundThen why doesn’t Mr. Cissna and the department of which he is director investigate the alleged abuses about which he is so concerned and that are outlined in this 23 June 2018 Bloomberg/Quint article?  Money laundering is within the realm of possibility but part of their job and that of the law firms that process the applications is to prevent this from happening.  EB-5 spies?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  That’s on terrestrial par with his boss’s wacky proposal for a “Space Force.”  

The EB-5 program is a source of cheap money from outside of the US that is used for a variety of private sector construction projects, including hotels, condos, offices, senior citizens centers, student dormitories, etc.  (If you don’t know, or are not sure, what EB-5 is, click on the link to read a USCIS description – from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.)

The concept is simple:  non-US Americans of means who want permanent resident status for themselves and their unmarried children under the age of 21 invest $500,000 (in most cases) in an approved EB-5 project.  (Each investment should create at least 10 permanent full-time jobs.)  If their application is approved and the project is successful, the money is refunded with a very small amount of interest.  Most importantly, they receive provisional green cards.  

In the case of Viet Nam, which ranks a distant 2nd – after China – in the number EB-5 applications filed, most parents do it for their children.  It means they don’t have to worry about changes in US immigration policies and laws.  Their children, the majority of whom have studied in the US, can remain there for the long term, if they so desire, and work.  They have all the rights and responsibilities of US citizens except they can’t vote, which is hardly a deal breaker.  

The EB-5 program has been a bee in the bonnet of the anti-immigration crowd for a long time, including people like Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).  This whole scenario reminds me of Bill Maher’s 2017 sketch, New Rule:  What Would a Dick Do?, in which he “tells Republicans that they have to learn the difference between being a conservative and just being a dick.”  What would a dick do, in this instance?  Eliminate the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, of course!  Those damn ferners are tryin’ to sneak into God’s country via its southern borders and the rich ones are buyin’ themselves Green Cards and citizenship with their millions of dollars.  Many of ’em are launderin’ money and hankerin’ to become spies, to boot.  God help US!  

Is this a program that essentially sells permanent resident status that can lead to citizenship?  Of course it is, in a byzantine sort of way, and it’s one that’s been in existence since 1990.  The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program, as it’s formally known, has allowed billions of dollars to finance thousands of construction projects to the benefit of the US economy.  What’s not to like? 

Two key differences between now and then are the current anti-immigration and nativist climate (think “Make America Great Again!” and “America First!”) and the anti-Chinese sentiment because, after all, official USA always has to have at least one or two national boogeymen and whipping boys.  (The other country official USA loves to hate is…  Russia and the USSR, before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.)  

Bottom line:  If there are abuses, deal with them.  If there are problems, solve them.  Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  And, please, for God’s sake, let’s dispense with the hysteria about “national security risks that allow foreign nationals to invest for the purpose of money laundering money or conducting espionage against us.”  

Peace, MAA

P.S.-Here are some related posts from earlier this year:  

Viet Nam Ranks Among Top 10 Foreign Residential Property Buyers in the US (9.1.18)

Viet Nam Ranks 5th in Emigration to the United States (7.1.18)

Viet Nam Ranks 60th Out of 163 in 2018 Global Peace Index

vision of humanity

Viet Nam is a peaceful country.  For those of us who live here, I’m stating the obvious.  According to the latest Global Peace Index reportViet Nam ranks 60th out of 163 countries surveyed.  That ranking is in descending order from the “most peaceful” (Iceland) to the “most dangerous” (Syria).  The “state of peace” categories include: very high, high, medium, low, and very low.  This means that Viet Nam falls into the “high” category, as do Germany (#17), the UK (#57) and France (#61).  Australia, Canada, and Japan are classified as “very high” and rank 13th, 6th, and 9th respectively.  

The Global Peace Index, produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), measures global peace using three broad themes: the level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict, and the degree of militarization.  

In the realm of personal safety, there are certain precautions one needs to take in Viet Nam, e.g., don’t walk around Hanoi and HCMC waving an expensive smartphone and always hold your bag away from the street, but violent crimes against people are rare. 

To learn more about the methodology and/or results of this survey, download this PDF report, all 100 pages of it.    

Peace, MAA

Record Number of B Visas Issued to Vietnamese in 2017

travel state gov

Since information is power, or at least helps in many decision-making processes, I am always looking for trends based on statistics and other data.  In the last (2017) fiscal year (FY) ending on 30 September 2017, a record 100,423 B-1,2 (tourist and business) visas were issued to Vietnamese citizens. 

The number of student visas issued during the same time was 17,275. While the US State Department does not release this information, one can assume – based on anecdotal sources – that the refusal rate is much higher for student visas, more so at the US Consulate in HCMC, which is considered a high fraud post, than at the US Embassy in Hanoi.  Check out this March 2018 blog post for more information about US student visas and Vietnamese students.

What is Adjusted Refusal Rate?  

Before we take a look at some visas stats from FY06 to FY17, here’s a definition of this term.  The visa waiver program nonimmigrant visitor refusal rate is based on the worldwide number of applicants for visitor (B) visas who are nationals of that country.  (B visas are issued for short-term business or pleasure travel to the US.)  The US State Department omits all applications from the calculation except the last one.  For example, if an applicant was refused in May and issued a visa in July of the same year, only the issuance will count.  If an applicant is refused twice, it will only be counted as one refusal.  

In rare cases, an applicant may end the year in a third category, “overcome.”  This happens when a consular officer has the information s/he needs to overcome a refusal
but has not processed the case to completion.  

Thus, the adjusted refusal rate equals: [Refusals minus Overcomes] divided by [Issuances plus Refusals minus Overcomes].

Example:  Determination of B Visa Adjusted Refusal Rate for Country X:
Country X, worldwide, had 305,024 B visa applicants end the fiscal year in the “issuance” status; 20,548 end in “refused” status; and 88 end in “overcome” status.  
Refusals minus Overcomes = 20,548 – 88 = 20,460
Issuances plus Refusals minus Overcomes = 305,024 + 20,548 – 88 = 325,484
20,460 divided by 325,484 = 6.3 percent (Adjusted Refusal Rate)

The complete description, from which the above formula was excerpted, can be downloaded here.  (This file includes links to refusal rate data from FY06 to FY17.)

The Ups and Downs of B Visa Issuance Rates

Last year, the adjusted refusal rate was 24.06%, which means that the issuance rate was 75.94%.  If 100,423 B visas were issued, a total of about 132,000 Vietnamese citizens applied for a B visa from 1 October 2016 to 30 September 2017.  The number of B visa issued jumped from 5,231 in 2006 to over 100,000 in 2017, a nineteen-fold increase in 11 years.  Follow this link to review this and related data.  

The factors that have contributed to substantial increases in B visa issuances include growing ability to afford overseas travel for pleasure and more business ties between Viet Nam and the US, which has produced an ever-expanding pool of applicants.  Another likely reason is that there are simply more qualified applicants.  The highest denial rate was in 2006 and the lowest in 2014. 

FY17: 24.06% (100,423)
FY16: 29.49% (86,180)
FY15: 23.43% (80,936)
FY14: 14.30% (67,140)
FY13: 20.30% (49,247)
FY12: 22.20% (41,159)
FY11: 33.50% (34,280)
FY10: 36.10% (30,811)
FY09: 42.30% (27,304)
FY08: 38.80% (30,426)
FY07: 36.30% (21,398)
FY06: 40.90%  (5,231)

Peace, MAA