Jag Venugopal's Blog

June 12, 2009

Visa consultants, and the pursuit of the American Dream

Filed under: India — Jag @ 3:49 pm
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It is but natural to want to improve one’s educational or economic standing. Thus, there are large numbers of Indians who wish to emigrate to a western country to either pursue higher degrees, or a well-paying job, or both. The desire is so great that a number of visa consultancy shops have sprung up which cater to this demand. See, for example:

http://www.y-axis.com

http://www.opulentusoverseas.com

 The modus operandi of these consultancies appears to be to:

  • Fill in various forms required by the consulates for the grant of a visa. Generally check up on paperwork
  • Conduct mock interviews
  • Update the prospective visa seeker with the latest consulate rumors (e.g. “The tall white male guy with a beard is rejecting a number of applications. Here’s how to deal with him if he interviews you…; the woman is more sympathetic, and here’s the strategy to follow when interviewing with her…”)

 There is nothing inherently wrong or illegal about these services, though one may question the need for them (clearly, if you want to immigrate to a foreign country, you ought to be competent enough to fill in a 2-page form on your own). Furthermore, coached interviews often get the applicant into trouble because the answers are likely to be manufactured. The applicant will most probably have difficulty keeping their “facts” straight under persistent questioning. My advice to prospective students and work-visa seekers is to fill in forms by themselves, and above all, to be scrupulously honest in the statements they make, lest they be disbarred permanently from entering their chosen country.

 There are some places, however, where these consultants start deviating from providing assistance, into peddling dubious university courses and false hopes.

 Both the above consultants offer what is known as a “Work-Study Program” for prospective students in the USA. Aspirants are promised that they will be able to work immediately in the US, with US employers, without restriction. All that they have to do is to sign up for a couple university courses at night. In their web site content and promotional brochures, the emphasis is always on the “work” portion of the “work-study” program, with “study” being an afterthought, mainly as a way to get the visa.

 Large numbers of Indians, especially from the smaller cities, appear to fall prey to such enticements. A look at the testimonial section of “Opulentus Overseas” shows a number of starry-eyed youngsters absolutely ecstatic about their work-study program visas. When I look at them, I understand what they’re trying to do, and am sympathetic to their dreams — after all it was not that long ago that I was in the same state.

 The reality, as always, is both harsh and different. For one thing, these “work-study programs” are available at third-tier universities in the US (names like Coleman University, Keiser University, Lincoln University, etc). The quality of the education available at these universities is likely to be very suspect. There is not one ivy-league university on their list. Not even a decent non-ivy university, like, say, BU or Northeastern.

 Secondly, all these “work-study” programs are administered by one company, HTIR (http://www.htir.com) which appears to be an out-and-out commercial enterprise, that offers legal cover to obtain work authorization, under the guise of a co-op program. Significant amounts of fees are payable to HTIR (see, for example, http://www.htir.com/images/forms/Explanation%20of%20Costs%20Keiser%204%2009.pdf), including a “cultural assimilation package”for $2975, and “Employment assistance package” for $950. This package is sold as assistance in obtaining an SSN, “personal advocacy” with university officials to obtain a work permit, and booking interviews with potential employers. This is absolute nonsense. Any legitimate university ought to provide most of these services _free_ through their International Student and Co-op offices. When I was a newly-arrived student at Northeastern, I paid exactly $zero to obtain an SSN, $zero to obtain work authorization, and again $zero to obtain assistance from their co-op office.

 Thirdly, the “work” that these programs obtain for their “students” is promised to be prestigious jobs at American corporations. The reality is that the majority are placed in minimum-wage jobs that are totally unrelated to the degree they are allegedly pursuing. For example, browsing http://www.opulentusoverseas.com/html/will-i-get-a-job1.htm shows the vast majority earning in the neighborhood of $10/hour as chefs, “sales representatives” etc. at the neighborhood resturant or Dunkin Donuts franchise. At this pay rate, assuming 25% tax (net pay of $7.50), it would take approximately 525 hours of work (a quarter-year) to pay back HTIR’s costs, never mind tuition, and living and board.

 The unkindest cut to these prospective students is that once they have completed their degree, their prospects for well-paying employment are remote at best. With the US in a recession, and with H1B visas limited to 65,000 it is quite likely that many will not find the job of their dreams, after having paid significant amounts. In pursuit of the American dream (and to avoid the stigma in Indian society of “one who went but couldn’t cut it”), many will likely be forced into undocumented labor (e.g. at the nearby Indian grocery or restaurant), or low-paying jobs at Indian-owned consultancies. With the current wait for a green card at approximately one decade, they will likely be stuck in immigration limbo for most of their next 10 years.

 My suggestions for prospective students or workers heading to the USA are simple and straightforward:

  • If you’re a student, have realistic expectations on what you can earn and what you cannot. Be honest with yourself on how much money you can afford to spend.
  • If education is important to you, seek it at a reputed university. Understand that you may end up spending about $30-40K for your degree, which you may or may not recoup.
  • Its dreadfully tough to get a job in this economy. Even worse if you’re looking for an H1B visa and have only a dubious “degree” to show. You’re most likely to end up being employed by an Indian “consultancy” at bottom-market rates, working long hours and sharing a house with many, many people, and with immigration paperwork of questionable legality.
  • Absent any immigration reform, the chances of your landing a green card anytime soon are exactly zero. Which means that you will be at someone’s mercy for your work authorization, all the time. And, the political climate right now for any immigration reform is just not there.
  • Ask yourself — is it worth it? You and only you can answer this.
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1 Comment »

  1. […] have blogged about H1B visa scams in the past; click  here and here. My blog posts on it have been quite popular (at least relative to my other […]

    Pingback by Fake experience letters « Jag Venugopal's Blog — January 20, 2012 @ 12:23 pm | Reply


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