Reports suggest that agents had assisted the visa applicants to acquire fake work experience documents and deposit funds required for proof of finances for visa applications.
Agentbee obtained copies of seven official police documents detailing the allegations, while The Hindu reported that the majority of the agents involved run consulting business in Hyderabad.
“The information provided by the US Embassy alleges that education agents from at least seven different education agencies were paid thousands of rupees to provide the aspiring students with fake documents to support their US student visa applications,” AgentBee noted.
“At least seven different education agencies were paid thousands of rupees to provide the aspiring students with fake documents”
The Times of India named Pavan Kumar Rao and another individual Kapil from Chaitanyapuri in Hyderabad as consultants involved.
Agent Sravan Kumar from Vellanki Overseas Education Advisors in Bagh Amberpet also provided fraudulent documents for Rs50,000, the paper also disclosed. The PIE has tried to reach Vellanki for comment.
President of Association of Australian Education Representatives in India confirmed that two of the agencies involved are members of the association. “The matter has been of concern to AAERI,” he said, adding that the agencies’ memberships had been suspended until police investigations are completed.
“If the police finds that the agencies were implicit in the fraud, then we will take further action,” he said.
The American International Recruitment Council has also initiated its complaint process regarding three AIRC certified agencies.
The US Embassy’s decision to file a complaint with the police, and not just refuse the visa, is an “important change on the ground”, added.
“Some of these applicants had their admission handled by the named education agents who may have assisted the students with putting together their visa documents. The police will decide if the agents were involved in creating or organising the fraudulent documents. It may or mayn’t be the case.
“AAERI will soon be training its members on ways to verify the documents,” he added.
“These kinds of stories of egregious actors getting caught emerge every few years,” Ben Waxman, CEO, Intead told The PIE.
“This stuff goes on in the world of enrolment and admissions. And when these stories hit, it gives fodder to those who want to say ‘I told you so!’ about the commission-based student recruiting process.”
Waxman noted however that there are “tools in place in every industry to identify reliable and valuable services and avoid those trying to cheat the system”.
“University enrolment teams can develop strong, trustworthy global relationships to feed their admissions pipeline. It requires time and diligence to forge those relationships. Those who dismiss international commission-based recruiting are doing their institutions a disservice,” he said.
Brian Whalen, executive director of American International Recruitment Council, also stated that fraud of this type is not acceptable.
“It harms students and their families, educational recruitment agencies, and our educational institutions,” he said.
Maintaining quality standards that “benefit all those involved in international student recruitment” is critical, Whalen continued.
“Acting with due process is paramount in these situations where a possible breach of standards has occurred. AIRC has already initiated its complaint process based on the news reports and individuals who submitted comments regarding three AIRC certified agencies.”
The AIRC complaint process is designed to be “fair, objective and detailed”, he highlighted.
“AIRC keeps confidential any action with regard to its certification and complaints process unless and until public notice of an outcome is required.
“Fortunately, these types of situations do not occur often. However, when they do, all of us can rely on the quality assurance processes that are in place to safeguard student interests. Our students and their families, agencies, institutions, and everyone involved in the important work of recruiting and enrolling international students deserve no less.”
Using AgentBee’s global directory in late 2021, The PIE reported that institutions were severing ties with agencies after a number of issues including tax evasion, professional misconduct and cancelled migration agent registration.
Stakeholders have reminded that submitting fraudulent documents is not a new phenomenon.
Ashish Fernando, founder and CEO of iSchoolConnect, along with head of Counselling, Roopali Birman, said that students and families fall prey to fake and unethical educational agents and consultants, paying over $1,000-$1,500 for forged financial and job experience certificates.
“Submitting fake work experience and bank documents to procure student visas is not new,” they said in a joint statement to The PIE.
“Faking documents is a question of compliance and security for all countries involved, and it tarnishes the image of the student’s city and state.”
They explained that in 15 years, they had witnessed “countless instances” of unethical behaviour by agents in the Punjab and Hyderabad regions of India.
“Countries have said unequivocally that students cannot be exonerated if caught providing false documents”
“Misleading agents play with the emotions and careers of students for minor monetary gains. Aspirants must exercise caution and avoid falling for such promises. Countries have said unequivocally that students cannot be exonerated if caught providing false documents.”
While it’s “great” that embassy officials are working hard to close the gap, establishing the legitimacy of a document is a difficult task, they continued.
“Robust document verification technologies such as blockchain and digital credentials are increasingly used to combat document fraud and make the system more secure. They are both cost-effective and help to preserve authenticity. The adoption of such technology by educational institutions will aid in the establishment of a robust document verification process and dissuade persons from engaging in unethical behaviour.”