Africans from across the continent are losing millions of dollars each year in fake university placement schemes, according to stakeholders on the continent.
High visa refusal rates of as much as 80% percent in some destinations, when compared to approval rates of the same figures for some source markets in the global north and parts of Asia, industry actors say are leading to desperation among many African parents and benefactors. The refusals are also blamed for frequent incidents of fraud.
The desperation is resulting in those wanting to study overseas falling prey to con schemes executed by fraudsters based in and outside the continent, who include from rogue placements or migration, and outright scammers.
“The fear of being denied a visa after all that is a factor in people falling for fake schemes”
In the process they end up paying huge sums of money, often after borrowing from financial institutions, family and friends, or after selling off assets, inquiries by The PIE News have shown.
According to Farook Lalji of Kenya-based Koala Education Consultants, so many African students who had applied for Canadian visas since the beginning of the year were yet to hear from the Canadian immigration, leave alone being issued with the prized document, yet studies in universities in the country commenced in September.
“Applying for a university abroad means paying visa fees, a deposit to the university, paying for a medical and other related costs,” he noted.
“The fear of being denied a visa after all that is a factor in people falling for fake schemes that come with an alleged guarantee of getting a visa.”
One remedy against fraud is for would-be victims to exercise more diligence, stick to licensed agents only, and avoid people who claim to be able to ‘guarantee’ visa issuance.
Parents should exercise caution when paying money to people claiming to be linking their children to universities abroad, first by checking if they are licensed by authorities to operate, he advised.
They should also check with the university to ensure that indeed the persons they are dealing with are known and appointed agents of the said institution.
“This may be something as simple as searching on the foreign online to see if the purported agent’s company is listed as acting for the institution, or by writing to the university to find out the truth,” he said.
Doing due diligence to ensure that an agent has a physical office or at least a website is advisable too.
“If you must deal with a briefcase or suspicious agent, then do not pay until the job is done just like it happens with other things in life. In this case do not pay until you have obtained all the information about the university and have obtained all necessary documents,” he warned prospective students.
This is particularly so in view of a recent scam exposed in Kenya where more than 1,000 parents lost an estimated US$15 million to owners of a dubious Nairobi college, before the fraudsters vanished.
Authorities too have a big part to play in ending the scams by being more vigilant and actively playing their regulatory role, said Stella Kinyanjui, line manager for Uniabroad consultants, Kenya.
In Kenya for example, the Commission for University Education ought to be publishing and regularly updating a list of licensed agencies on its website, something it does not do, she noted.
A combination of desperation, ignorance and a shortage of information on procedures for enrolling a student in foreign universities, left parents vulnerable to fraudsters, a reality that should worry regulatory authorities and nudge them into action.
“The need to create awareness on what those seeking to enrol in foreign universities ought to do is urgent”
“In our case in Kenya, the need to create awareness on what those seeking to enrol in foreign universities ought to do is urgent, but the first step should be convening a stakeholders meeting involving incensed agents and listening to their views,” she told The PIE News.
In September Study International published a guide to avoid getting scammed, citing high rejection rates “due to discriminatory treatment as contributory factor” as reason for the rip-offs.
“For many students in the Global South, getting a student visa can be a harrowing process involving exorbitant sums and tedious paperwork with no guarantee of approval,” the company added, citing an earlier incident in which a college defrauded students from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia and Cameroon CAN$560,000.
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