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Author Archives: Ravi Lochan Singh

When THE AUSTRALIAN recommends AAERI petition on restricting onshore education agent commissions… Time for policy makers to heed.

Call to keep dodgy agents out: It’s been estimated that around 27,000 new student visas are issues by the Australian High Commission in Delhi each year. And the scourge of ‘waka-jumpers’ — non-genuine students who enrol via the streamlined visa process and then jump into non-accredited or cheaper courses — has the peak body for agents up in arms. The Association of Australian Education Representative in India, representing about 90 ‘reputable’ agents, has set up a petition to prohibit commission payments to onshore agents in Australia. “The new SSVF system provides an equal playing field for the education providers, we believe that unless the ESOS act prohibits the payment of commission to onshore agents, this loophole will continue to be abused in Australia,” says AAERI president Rahul Gandhi. The association wants a mere 100 signatures. It has 96. You can help him out by signing the petition here.

This is how Australia’s leading newspaper THE AUSTRALIAN’s HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT dated 19th August 2016 introduces the AAERI petition in its editorial. The total number of signatories to the petition has crossed 100 already and thus has met the first goal. You may however still sign the petition making it stronger in support.

On 5th August, I drew your attention to the severity of the situation onshore and how the students get poached onshore by such dodgy middle-men. In this blog I suggested that the new system of accrediting agents lays more focus on the onshore education/migration agents and how there is just no justification for the engagement of an onshore agent by an institution at all when the student doesn’t need any assistance which the institution is not able able to offer directly.

On 8th August, I had blogged detailing how the policies in other countries attempt at restraining onshore activities of education agents. I made special reference to the fact that US has prohibited payment of commission for students who may be recruited onshore by agents while allowing the same for offshore recruitment.

In this earlier blog, I did refer to the menace of the onshore agents in NZ, a few years ago and how the NZ Government has linked the student visa to a particular institution and if the student decides to change institution, they do need to apply to the Immigration NZ for a fresh visa. Allow me to share some further information pertaining to the NZ efforts to nip this development right at that time.

The situation was fairly grim in 2008-2009 with several instances of wake-jumping. The linked article from 2009 indicates how the Government was made amendments to the education act making it difficult for students to secure full refunds.

The Government is moving to prevent “waka jumping” among international students as figures show student visa approvals are up for the first time in five years.

The Press reported in April on what had become known as “waka jumping”, where international students apply for a student visa to attend an institution, but after arriving in the country drop out and start a cheaper course elsewhere.

Current regulations mean students can switch schools with a full refund from their former institution.

The Government is changing the Education Act to allow private training establishments to retain up to 25 per cent of fees to compensate for the costs of recruiting international students.

So with the above, full refunds were not possible as a measure to compensate for the cost of recruitment efforts overseas by institutions. And the visa was clearly linked to the institution too. Students enrolling in NZ institutions were granted visa for the duration of the course for which the student has pre-paid.

And now I find the following standard clause in NZ agreements with the agents which indicates that the commission may be payable if the student has completed a program of study onshore and proceeding for further study BUT it is not paid if the student has been poached midway of the first qualification in NZ.

XXXXX will pay the commission as detailed under clause 4.1 for any student who meets academic entry requirements based on prior completion of an academic qualification in New Zealand, providing that the AGENT was responsible for the initial placement of the student for that qualification in a New Zealand secondary school or English language foundation

Commission is not payable if the student is seeking entry to XXXXX on the basis of a partially or fully completed diploma or degree or other qualification from a New Zealand tertiary institution or private training establishment unless the AGENT provides evidence that they were responsible for the initial placement of the student in the New Zealand tertiary institution.

This definitely is what is desired from Australia too. Protect the interest of the reputed Universities that travel and build brand of Australia offshore and spend in this effort. And protect the interest of the offshore education representatives of such institutions that provide assistance right from career counselling to visas prior to enrolment at the Universities.

You can help by signing the AAERI petition here. Please support the interest of Institutions that recruit from offshore markets and the interest of their offshore representatives.

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2016 in education

 

US Higher Education Act prohibits payment of commission for onshore student recruitment and this is something that Australia must do if it wants to end poaching of students from Universities to lesser colleges onshore.

According to the US’s 1992 Higher Education Act:

[An] institution will not provide any commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based directly or indirectly on success in ensuring enrolments or financial aid to any persons or entities engaged in any student recruiting or admission activities or in making decisions regarding the award of student financial assistance, except that this paragraph shall not apply to the recruitment of foreign students residing in foreign countries who are not eligible to receive federal student assistance. (20 USC §1094(a)(20))

The above clearly indicates that payment of commission to education agents recruiting students offshore is permitted while for students who are already onshore is not. This is the way it should be.

In my earlier blog ( https://ravilochansingh.com/2016/08/05/australia-to-introduce-an-accreditation-for-education-agents-and-why-it-is-critical-that-it-succeeds-in-chaining-the-onshore-activities-of-agents-and-a-call-being-made-to-removereduce-commission-pay/ ) I have argued for commission for onshore recruitment be banned or reduced in Australia and the logic for that was simply that the argument for payment for offshore student recruitment didn’t apply in the case of onshore recruitment. I had argued in that blog that…

Frankly none whatsoever that justifies engaging an “onshore” agent for a student who is simply changing institutions for the same or similar program of study. There is no visa to be done and if there is a need for visa extension, it is an easy process that a student is often assisted by the institutions itself. If the student needs assistance with this easy process, they may pay the migration agent a small fee. The onshore agency is not doing any background check on the student as that is not being required from an onshore student. The engagement of the onshore agent with the student is also very brief unlike that of offshore agent. It is simply that of filling up an application form and emailing to the institution. There is no accommodation services or pre-departure guidance. No verification of documents. And none of the onshore agents are equipped to assist in anything further.

Do read my previous blog to learn how the onshore agents actually bring in unethical conduct in the trade and the poaching that happens is from established Universities to lesser colleges generally and increasingly using means such as “cash-back’

Returning to the example of the US regulations, it is a myth that commissions are not permitted at all. Many institutions have believed that too. However, the fact remains that (and as in the reading of the Higher Education Act quoted above), it is clear that the prohibition on payment for student recruitment doesn’t apply on student residing in foreign lands.

The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), with 11,000 individual members, essentially takes a page from the HEA in its Statement of Principles and Good Practices (SPGP) in stating that all members agree that they will: “Not offer or accept any reward or remuneration from a secondary school, college, university, agency, or organization for placement or recruitment of students.” In 2013, this statement was also refreshed to make a differential between onshore and offshore recruitment of students. To quote from the media reporting on the change to the SPGP:

The assembly of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or the NACAC, voted 152:47 to revise its Statement of Principles of Good Practice and to allow international recruiters to be paid financial incentives for each student they sign up – something US universities are prohibited by law from doing when they enrol domestic students.

And giving the example from the US, I strengthen the message from my earlier blog differentiating the role of an offshore education representative from that of an onshore agent.

An offshore agent is actually “a representative of the University representing the interest of the University in an overseas location where they are not present”. However, the onshore agent is actually “a migration agent double dipping as an agent of the student finding a program to suit the client’s migration intentions and is located in the same location as the Institution”.

This is a major differential and thus I am now making a case for the payment for the service of the agent be made by the recipient of the service which in the case of offshore markets is the University while in the onshore locations is the student and so in other words am asking for a ban (or reduction) on payment of commission for onshore recruitment activity altogether.

Do note that I am talking more of the students being poached during their first program of study and mostly within the first year of the study in Australia. In my further blog I will detail how many Universities in NZ are beginning to modify their contracts to allow commission for second or further programs but not midway of the first program and how the NZ student visa label too indicates the program of first study with the institution. These are good practises for Australia to learn from.

 

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30% drop in first time student visas on year till date till June 2016 for NZ is actually good. I forecast a drop of 50% by the end of the year. 

30% drop in first time visas on year till date for NZ is actually good. NZ visa increases during the last year was largely due to increased fraudulent financials and also extremely lax English proficiency requirements. Now that these two areas have been targeted, drop in student visa grants is but expected. I forecast a drop of 50% for the full calendar year. Actually a good and necessary development.

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Posted by on August 8, 2016 in education

 

Australia to introduce an accreditation for Education Agents and why it is critical that it succeeds in chaining the onshore activities of agents. And a call being made to remove/reduce commission payments for onshore recruitment of students.

Australian Government is now funding the IEAA to carry out a feasibility study on how to operationalise an industry-led quality framework for international education agents. This is exploring the potential for an industry funded and led body which would accredit agents, monitor their performance and publish a register of accredited agents.

From what I understand the recommendations are that the system of accreditation would be voluntary for agents, however providers would be encouraged to use accredited agents. The Government is also funding the IEAA to develop an Australian Code of Ethics for international education agents, to enhance the quality and reputation of those involved in recruiting international students.

Through this blog, I highlight on how the “offshore” justification on use of education agents doesn’t necessarily argue the case for “onshore” agents.

“I have come to Australia to study an MPA and the fees at my institution is $30000 per year. I want to transfer to another institution where the fees are $15000 per year and where the attendance may be flexible. It will help if I may pay the fees in multiple instalment. Help me in changing the provider and getting the release letter.”

The above is a typical contact from an onshore student to an onshore agent.

And the question that begs an answer is:

Why is the onshore student approaching an onshore agent when he can easily walk into the institution that he desires and get an offer of place?

  • Yes, there is no need for a visa if the student is moving side-ways. Any institution (especially the low cost low quality private institutions) will happily meet the student at the door and help them make the change. The reasons are several and one of the growing ones now is that the certain onshore education/migration agents also pass on part of the commissions and some of the low quality institutions are doing most of the international recruitment through onshore poaching from other providers. Movement is mostly away from Universities and sadly the elements to attract students include low cost, multiple instalments, flexible classes and cash-back through onshore agents. Dirty? Absolutely.
  • There are a few genuine “change of provider requests” but then there too, is there a reason to engage an onshore agent? No.

An offshore agent is actually “a representative of the University representing the interest of the University in an overseas location where they are not present”. However, the onshore agent is actually “a migration agent double dipping as an agent of the student finding a program to suit the client’s migration intentions and is located in the same location as the Institution”.

 This is a major differential and thus I am now making a case for the payment for the service of the agent be made by the recipient of the service which in the case of offshore markets is the University while in the onshore locations is the student and so in other words am asking for a ban (or reduction) on payment of commission for onshore recruitment activity altogether.

Before detailing the concern with the activities of the onshore education agents, let us first understand the role of the education agent in “offshore” markets and the justification for the same:

Education Providers contact offshore education agents to assist with their promotions in the overseas markets, highlight the salient features, promote the destination country, provide career counselling, assist with applications, certifying documents after matching with the originals, provide guidance with student visa process, assist with accommodation/travel/forex along-with general pre-departure guidance. In return for the services offered by the offshore education agents, institutions pay a certain representation fee which may be fixed or a percentage. Some education representatives go beyond this role and also assist with institution to institution engagements and further take the complicated onus of verifying the financial and academic documents being put out by the student.

  • It is important to note that all through the process, the education agency is working as an “agent of the University in an overseas market” and not of the student.

Now let us understand the role of the “onshore” agents whether there is any justification for payment of commission:

Frankly none whatsoever that justifies engaging an “onshore” agent for a student who is simply changing institutions for the same or similar program of study. There is no visa to be done and if there is a need for visa extension, it is an easy process that a student is often assisted by the institutions itself. If the student needs assistance with this easy process, they may pay the migration agent a small fee. The onshore agency is not doing any background check on the student as that is not being required from an onshore student. The engagement of the onshore agent with the student is also very brief unlike that of offshore agent. It is simply that of filling up an application form and emailing to the institution. There is no accommodation services or pre-departure guidance. No verification of documents. And none of the onshore agents are equipped to assist in anything further.

  • Almost all of them are migration agents and they are only getting the students to move between institutions guided by occupations that are on SOL or generally migration outcomes. Thus if a student is seeking this kind of input from an agency, the agency becomes an “agent of the student” and not of the University and thus the payment for the services should be by the student and not by the University.

Now that you can differentiate the services offered by offshore agent and that of onshore agent, you can clearly make out that the services offered is far more by offshore representative justifying the commission payment. Institutions need to now begin to differentiate the commission paid to the onshore agents if it has to be paid at all.

In a future blog I shall detail how the US regulation of banning commission for onshore student recruitment and the NZ regulation of tying the student visa to an institution has a message for Australian policy makers.

 

Can as Student meet the GTE criterion for student visa under SSVF if the SOP states that subject to regulations at the time of graduation may opt for Permanent Residency and at the same time is willing to return if there are no such options?

What is the proper interpretation of the genuine temporary entrant requirement for student visas? This is a question that has been hotly litigated in the Federal courts over the last year. And it is one that remains highly relevant under the new student visa framework that came into force on 1 July 2016.

(Source: Important Decisions About Student Visas and the GTE!!! )

That is because the genuine temporary entrant criterion has been carried forward into the new Part 500 of Schedule 2: new clause 500.212 reads as follows:

“500.212

The applicant is a genuine applicant for entry and stay as a student because:

(a) the applicant intends genuinely to stay in Australia temporarily….”

Over the last two weeks, there have been decisions from the courts that anyone who is assisting an applicant for a student visa needs to know about.

The first of these decisions was the High Court’s disposition of the Khanna case, which occurred on 21 July 2016.

The Khanna case originally came before Judge Manousaridis of the Federal Circuit Court. In his decision, Judge Manousaridis held that the Tribunal had committed jurisdictional error by interpreting the “genuine temporary entrant” requirement to mean that an applicant could not satisfy the criterion if she/he holds a subjective hope or intention of seeking to remain in Australia beyond the period of the student visa if a further visa pathway should become available.

It was Judge Manousaridis’s view in Khanna that it is necessary for the Tribunal, in assessing whether an applicant for a student visa meets the genuine temporary entrant requirement, to inquire as to the applicant’s plans and intentions are if a further visa pathway does not present itself: if an applicant states that they would return to their home country if a further visa is not granted, then they could satisfy the genuine temporary entrant requirement, but if they disclose to the Tribunal that they would intend to remain in Australia even if a further permanent visa pathway did not become available, then they would not meet the requirement.

That seems fair enough, as far as it goes, doesn’t it?

Well, what happened in Khanna was that the Department appealed Judge Manousaridis’s decision to the Federal Court. In that appeal, the Department claimed that Judge Manousaridis’s approach to the interpretation of the genuine temporary entrant requirement had been incorrect.

At the Federal Court level, Judge Reeves found that the Tribunal had properly found that the student visa applicant did not satisfy the genuine temporary entrant requirement, and that the Tribunal had thus acted properly in affirming the Department’s refusal of the student visa application. Interestingly enough though, Judge Reeves did not find it necessary to consider whether Judge Manousaridis’s interpretation of the genuine temporary entrant requirement was correct or incorrect.

The applicant in Khanna then tried to take the case to the High Court. However, the High Court refused the applicant’s application for “special leave” to have her case considered.

So the ultimate result of the litigation in Khanna was that it left the question of whether a student visa applicant can hold a subjective intention to pursue a further visa pathway if it should become available and still be able to satisfy the genuine temporary entrant requirement open and undecided.

And to make matters even more confusing and unsettled, at the same time that the Khanna case was working its way through the courts, a second case, posing the same question about how the genuine temporary entrant requirements should be interpreted, was also winding its way through the court system.

This was the Saini case: Saini v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection [2016] FCA 858 (29 July 2016)

And when Saini was before the Federal Circuit Court, Judge Cameron arrived at an interpretation of the genuine temporary entrant requirement that is in direct conflict with Judge Manousaridis’s interpretation in Khanna. Judge Cameron took the view that the genuine temporary entrant requirement does not contemplate “anything other than an unqualified intention to stay temporarily” and rejected the proposition that “an applicant may harbor the hope of something more than a temporary stay”.

Finding yourself a bit confused? Keep reading.

First, another layer of complication and confusion!

When the Saini case was appealed to the Federal Court by the applicant, the Department appeared to have adopted a position that was consistent with Judge Manousaridis’s opinion in Khanna!

That’s right! Surprising (astonishing) as it may seem, the Department made submissions that the genuine temporary entrant requirement could be interpreted to mean that it was “possible for a visa-applicant to hold simultaneously an intention to remain in Australia temporarily and a desire to remain in Australia permanently if an opportunity arises”.

Read that again! Yep, before the Federal Court in Saini, the Department was (apparently!) accepting the exact same interpretation that it had fought against in Khanna.

Ok, last chapter, and the one that tells us how at least one judge of the Federal Court, Judge Logan, believes that the genuine temporary entrant requirement really should be interpreted.

In Saini, Judge Logan stated that it is his view that the preferred interpretation of the genuine temporary entrant requirement is a s follows: It is permissible tor an applicant for a student visa to have a subjective intention to seek, at some time in the future, a further visa which would enable a further temporary stay in Australia – for example, a 485 visa, or perhaps a 457 visa, or some other temporary visa.

However, in Judge Logan’s view, this is where the line should be drawn. In His Honour’s opinion, if an applicant has a “settled intention” at the time of decision to seek a visa at some time in the future that would lead to anything more than temporary residence, then a conclusion can safely be drawn that the applicant does not satisfy the genuine temporary entrant requirement.

So, this is where the law presently stands.

It’s my own view that this decision is problematic, and that the correct approach was the one adopted by Judge Manousaridis in the original Khanna decision.

It’s of course a well-known fact that many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Australia citizens originally came here as international students, and have then remained after getting permanent work visas (ENS, 189, 190 or previous equivalents). And does not Australia want students who have earned their qualifications and skills to remain here and to contribute to the economy and the life of the community?

And here is a dilemma for anyone who is assisting a student visa applicant: Suppose you have an applicant who does have a desire, wish or dream to stay permanently in Australia after they finish their studies. How do you counsel them to respond if they are asked about their intentions directly by the Department or at the Tribunal stage? Wouldn’t you be remiss in your obligation to your client if you didn’t tell them that if they disclose a desire to remain in Australia permanently, rather than temporarily, that their student visa application is bound to be rejected?

Your thoughts?

Source: Important Decisions About Student Visas and the GTE!!!

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2016 in education

 

Immigration NZ attempts transparency and releases “Indian Education Agent” visa approval rate publicly on its website.

It seems that INZ is under pressure to become more transparent. A few weeks ago, I had blogged on the the documents sourced through the Official Informations Act where the list of education agents found to have submitted fraudulent documents was listed. That blog can be found on this link. I was also quoted in PIE News on that topic and that article is on this link.

However, it seems that Immigration NZ has become determined to pursue further transparency and has now released the visa approval rate for all agents publicly on its website.

While I take delight in finding my company in the top 10 agents based on visa success rate, I do believe that such moves can be used by some agencies for their marketing advantage and this might not be very productive. Visa success rates can vary between regions in the market. The earlier release of documents through the Official Secrets Act too has been used by a particular agency in North India which has put out posters in their offices already warning students from using the named agents.

As I indicated in my blog and my various articles, sometimes even a well meaning education agent can end up with a fraudulent document unknowingly.

However now that INZ has put out the list of agents on their website, I am provide the link to their site where one can find the downloadable list and also the most recent newsletter with student visa statistics for India (link).

Is such transparency helpful without any disclaimers? Absolutely no benefit of doubt?

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2016 in education

 

25 years (1991-2016) of doing what I know best and now time to share the story on CNBC in India and detail the challenges for the industry on Radio 2GB in Australia.

Over the last decade, there have been several “so called” experts almost writing off the role of an education counsellor and assuming that internet is to replace the education agents exactly the way travel agents been sidelined by well designed travel booking portals. However they forgot to consider the issues around 1)conversions of online enquiry to enrolment for Universities, 2)Issues around document fraud for the visa departments and 3)level of difficulty with processes for a student. All these three aspects can’t simply be replaced by flashy and well designed IT solutions. Assistance by reputed and reliable education counsellors (middle-men) continues be required and today even the online queries received by Universities are being referred to education agents on the ground to vet. The challenge before the stakeholders is the need to be able to identify as to who is reputed and reliable. Though mere chasing of student numbers will always cloud their findings.

In September 1991, Global Reach took birth coinciding with the opening up of the Indian market. Next month, the company and the concept will be 25 years old.

Last few days has had me in the media talking about the Global Reach story and detailing our plans for the coming years. For those who want to see me at my immodest best, I provide the youtube link of a program that was aired on CNBC last week that featured me and GR as Icon of New India

 

To me sustenance of our sector is clearly the focus as we head into the next phase. However considering the external factors alongside the internal preparedness will be required. Last night, I was interviewed on Radio 2GB by Steve Price and Danny Bielik. Here I have talked about the challenges for Australian Education in the Indian Market and the issues that need to be fixed. I have shared why I believe Australia needs to treat the Indian students as customers. Post Study Work has been offered but employers have not been advised that such international students on 485 subclass visa are eligible for full time work.

The interview can be found on the link below…

http://www.2gb.com/audioplayer/191566

 

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 
 
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