The Canadian High Commission last week warned the public against possible visa fraud through misleading advertisements by agents promising visas to Canada. People were being cheated out of large sums of money, the High Commission warned, by “unscrupulous operators” who gave the public false hopes.
These visa agents, or visa consultancy agents, are everywhere. Their little boards stick out among the sea of others along the Galle Road, their advertisements flood your daily newspapers and the internet.
When The Sunday Leader probed further into the matter, it was to discover that while these agents promise to make the tedious job of applying for a visa much easier, they will charge very high fees for it, and it does not necessarily mean that you will get that visa.
No matter what they say, or how much people pay, there is no guarantee whatsoever – no matter how legitimate their operations are (or how legitimate they say they are).
Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Leader, Canadian High Commissioner Bruce Levy explained that there were a variety of ways people could be misled into believing they can be guaranteed a visa.
The three most common examples, he said, were organisations claiming to be experts on Canadian visa applications, an educational institution or someone acting on behalf of an educational agency assuring visas if their courses are taken, and agencies offering work-related training that would help secure a visa.
“All of these efforts may well be legal,” said Levy, “but what we want to warn people against is that… at the end of the day they still have to go through a process. The fact that someone has taken a course ultimately won’t influence the decision.”
So Why Do They Use Agents?
For a variety of reasons. While some believe that it gives them a greater chance of obtaining a visa, others just need some help.
According to Aruna Samarasinghe, who heads the Supreme Lanka visa consultancy firm, most clients are unsure of how to get about the process of applying for a visa. Some need help to simply fill in their applications, he says.
“We usually charge around Rs.15,000 – 20,000, for those who are reapplying after being rejected. If they are applying for the first time, we charge a maximum of Rs. 10,000 and sometimes much less if they only need help filling in their forms,” said Samarasinghe, who also claims that most other agencies charge up to Rs. 50,000, perhaps more, for their services.
In the event of a visa rejection, he said, the firm did not offer a refund because they never guaranteed a visa in the first place.
CEO of The Visa Centre, Dale Rabot, too said that his firm did not offer clients guaranteed visas to, or employment in, countries like Canada. People nevertheless required the services of his firm, he claimed, because applying for a visa “is a highly complex business.”
Taking a smoother route through this “highly complex business” however, does not come cheap.
Rabot said his firm charged a professional fee of Rs. 115,000 which was refundable if the application was rejected, and an additional fee of Rs. 48,000 to be paid upon signing of the contract which he says is to cover expenses — and is non-refundable.
He also claimed that his clients were fully aware that The Visa Centre did not “guarantee nor influence the success or processing time of the client’s application.” However, he added that not all agencies played by the same rules.
“There are so many false advertisements around, and most Sri Lankans get caught to this. They also think that the higher the price they pay, the faster they can go,” said Rabot.
Need No Middleman
Commenting on the operations of these agencies, the Canadian High Commissioner said that Canada did recognise immigration consultants, and that agents listed with the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants could be found on the website www.csis-scci.ca.
He added, however, that this did not mean the Canadian Government recommended these consultants.
“The process of applying for a visa does not require a third party to get involved,” said High Commissioner Levy.
“I do realise that sometimes paperwork and red-tape does seem daunting…[but] I would advise a person who is asked to pay a significant sum of money to look more closely. That should set off alarm bells.”
The consultants’ services, he said, may be legitimate, but “it crosses the line when they say that they can guarantee a visa, because they (applicants) cannot be guaranteed a visa.”
The issue also hurt Canada’s relationship with Sri Lanka, Levy said, when a visa was rejected.
The rejection, after all, came despite one’s belief that the agent with the attractive advertisement in the paper could actually help them, and instead left them with no visa and an empty wallet.