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Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Bogus in Bangladesh

Two young men came to see me in our Dhaka office on October 11th. They showed me their admission letters to a Canadian college and their visa refusal letters from the Canadian High Commission’s Visa Section in Bangladesh.

They were quite disappointed and said they badly wanted to go to Canada for further studies. Though it was clear to me from interviewing them (and the regular interrogation I do !), that basically they wanted out of Bangladesh. As the older of the two eventually admitted, “I want out of Bangladesh as soon as possible,” he told me.

Their first choice was Canada for a fresh start, and to obtain a Canadian Study Permit. One “student” had an MBA already and some good work experience. The other was a mediocre student who had done two years of an undergraduate Business degree. They had gone through an education agent in Chittagong (the second biggest city in Bangladesh, and in the south) and they had been convinced to apply to a diploma business program at one of Ontario’s largest provincially funded colleges.

No question they would get admitted. Almost everyone who applies does. If the college does any due diligence it would be shocking (virtually no one in Canada does). So they were admitted. The agent was happy. The students told me that the agent collected 800 dollars from each of them for the admission letter. The College was happy. Their admission letter says students must pay a little more than one thousand dollars to hold their admission. The agent collects another three thousand dollars from each student if they get a visa, and as is common in South Asia – the agent holds back the visa as a sort of blackmail for the last big payday.

Of course – very little chance this gets past the visa officer.

The agency probably has a track record of sending fraudulent applications to the visa office. But the agent does not care – at 800 bucks a pop for an application, that’s great business in Bangladesh. Heck, that’s a great business in Toronto ! The academic profiles did not make a lot of sense. The MBA graduate was overqualified for the diploma, and the undergraduate was underqualified.

A closer examination of their IELTS certificates indicated they were fakes. We could see that the formatting of the lines and boxes of the two were different, a dead give-away on what is a standard form. Back when we opened our office in Dhaka in 1997, we sat with the Canadian visa officer then, and he would take out his magnifying glass and show us all the signs of forgery. It’s usually quite tell-tale, if one knows what to look for.

I made it clear to the two men that there is nothing we can do at the CUAC to help them (we turn away over 90% of the drop-in traffic to our office in Dhaka. Juxtaposed to the agents in Bangladesh who accept 100% of their traffic (their end-game is in churning service fees through volume whether genuine or fraudulent). I told the men that if Canada was an option before, it is not now, with their record at the Canadian Embassy’s Visa Section.

The day before I had met with the Canadian High Commissioner in Dhaka and the Canadian Visa Manager. I was asked if Canadian institutions check on who they work with in Bangladesh. I said it’s not only rare that any due diligence is done, but what’s even worse, many Canadian colleges (and some universities) empower the unscrupulous agents. When the two men walked into our office the next day, it was a perfect example of collecting application fees, tuition deposits, and fostering more fraud.

It’s the way it is. For agents in high fraud environments this is their version of success. They are never going to change, as long as they can charge – and get paid, and of course, as long as Canadian institutions keep entertaining them.

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About Mel

Mel has consulted universities, colleges, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the field of international education since 1997. He is co-founder of Higher-Edge, the parent of Overseas, Overwhelmed, and a director of the Canadian University Application Centre. He is a former award-winning CBC reporter and holds a Masters degree from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

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