Business Bhutan speaks with Chairman, ABEC

Business Bhutan speaks with Chairman, ABEC

Bhutanese planning to go abroad for studies and work amidst changes in student immigration policies, are bombarded with different information on social and print media from within and outside the country, confusing them. In this exclusive with Business Bhutan’s Sonam Lhamo, Palden Tshering, Chairman of the Association of Bhutanese Education Consultancies (ABEC), sheds light on the topic and offers advice and clarifications

  1. The changes in the Australian and Canadian visas, especially pertaining to student visas, are reported to have caused a major problem for Bhutanese students and others. Could you elaborate?

The changes for international students applying to Australian and Canadian institutions are to post-study work privileges, higher financial obligations, and stricter eligibility standards in both countries. Students are now experiencing delays with visas as a result of these changes too.

Bhutanese students need to ask themselves can I afford their financial obligations, do I have the right profile for a student visa, is part time work still available in the city I’m applying to and finally I’m 35 and above, do I qualify for post study work privileges?

Financial obligations in both countries for living expenses with both students and dependents have gone up, this adds a burden on student applicants if their primary intent is work over study.

Having the right profile, everything that we have been saying over the last 5 years with student profiles has not changed. You need strong English proficiency scores, work experience, short study gaps because the genuine student requirements are all factors that have an effect on a student visa.

As a student applicant it’s your responsibility to research what cities have part time work available, you can also cross check this information with your local education consultant.

Being 35 and above does not prevent you from applying for a postgraduate degree. But on completion of your degree, if you’re 35 and above and do not fulfill the requirements of the skilled occupation list, then you are expected to review options under other visa categories or return to your home country.

We cannot question why countries implement certain national policies or ask them to change it. We have to comply with what they ask for. This is why every student needs to ask themselves, is this what I want, how is my life going to be better by pursuing a higher education out of Bhutan and what will my quality of life be like?

If you’re clear with the answers then you’re also clear on what obligations you have to fulfill as an international student applicant. On a positive note, these changes have facilitated better screening of genuine student profiles.

At Global Reach, our student profiles continue to be strong, maybe because of our messaging or genuine students know that we have a high standard for them when they apply through us.

Every student has the right to any information we can provide them to help make an informed decision, but under no circumstances is it the responsibility for an education consultant to do all the work on behalf of the applicant, it’s a two way street that involves the work of both parties.

This emphasizes how crucial it is for us to be up to date on policy changes and for students to seek guidance from registered local educational consultants.

  1. Looking at social media posts from self proclaimed experts, articles published in the Indian media and others Bhutanese students are confused. Your comments please.

We have been asked to respond to a lot of misinformation about posts on Tik Tok, Facebook and Instagram.

With regard to that specifically, I can only say to everyone reading this…do NOT take for gospel what people say on social media about study abroad options or international student visa processing unless they are a registered education consultant in Bhutan. If you’re not sure, just ask.

Individuals not based in Bhutan or having a registered license in Bhutan can say whatever they want on social media because they are not under Bhutanese jurisdiction.

If you’re listening and watching these kinds of posts on your feed, question it and cross check the information, you’ll be surprised how incorrectly these individuals have interpreted policy changes and use it for their own purpose or what they are trying to sell.

Education consultants registered in Bhutan are responsible for what they say on social media. Should any of us be found to misinform or misrepresent, make a complaint so it gets addressed. We are all liable for the information that we put out on our social media and marketing.

When it comes to regional news, we need to understand the news. Policy in general affects all of us but this is not India and what affects Indian students does not necessarily affect Bhutanese students.

Our visa categories are different and because of the work that collectively education consultants have done in maintaining a standard of service delivery in Bhutan, we remain a low risk country while some of our neighbors are viewed as a higher risk country.

This affects how applicants are vetted by the high commissions and institutions and ultimately our visa rejection rates.

  1. There are reports that a substantial number of visas to Australia have been rejected, which Bhutanese education consultancy firms are hiding, thinking that they will lose business. Is there any truth to this?

Based on the information that we have upto March 2024, Bhutan has a 27% visa rejection rate. That’s the total country rejection rate. Is it higher than normal? Yes, on average we should be looking at anything around 10%, that’s an acceptable percentage.

This basically means that we as education consultants have to do more with educating the market so they understand the changes in policy and how it affects their applications. It also means the time for a student walking in and saying to do all my work for me, I don’t care as long as I get to go, is over.

Students need to walk in prepared with a plan asking specific questions on how they can be helped processing their applications. They need to prepare to take the TOEFL, they need to work on a strong profile.

If we do this, collectively our country’s overall rejection rate will come back to about 10%. But it takes everyone together.

I don’t believe that education consultants hide their rejection rates. I would rather say that sometimes they promote other messages to compensate, like using certain words or phrases that make them sound better than other consultants while marketing.

If a student is in doubt of the reliability of the consultant because of potential rejections, they should just ask. Bhutan is a small market and news of mass visa rejections from a consultancy moves quickly, so it’s in our interest to be transparent.

Global Reach has less than 9% which is acceptable for us, but again students need to ask the right questions when applying to study abroad and be prepared to put in the work.

That’s what we expect, when students come to us.

  1. People opine that consulting firms should inform all applicants applying for visas about the changes in immigration policies, which some consulting firms do not seem to be doing.

As I mentioned before collectively we as an association have worked hard towards responsible messaging, informing the public of changes as and when they arise. Our counselors are trained and most of them certified not just in Bhutan but for various countries.

I truly believe that the problem we have is not just about consultants having to do more, we acknowledge this, but  students who are investing so much money need to make sure they do some research as well.

Only a few students are actually prepared or understand the kind of work involved in making a decision to study abroad, sometimes more thought and research is put into buying a phone over a decision like this.

  1. If Bhutanese in Australia or Canada are affected, who would be the main ones affected by these policy changes?

Everyone is going to get affected by these policy changes, which is why it’s so important to understand them and use them to your advantage. What information do we have for Australia, as an example.

We know that if you are applying to an assessment level 1 university, financials are not necessarily required for the visa application, visa turnaround time for an assessment level 1 university for a Bhutanese applicant is about 10 days, assessment level one university visa applications are also prioritized and have a higher visa success rate, this all works because Bhutan is viewed as a low risk country.

This is an example of how you can use the changes in policy to an advantage.

Not being informed is not an excuse and if you are still applying to an assessment level 3 institute or private college, you’re looking at a delay in visa, higher scrutiny in documentation and higher risk of rejection.

  1. As Chairman of the Association of Bhutanese Education Consultancies, what do you have to say about all of this?

As education consultants we are bound by our association guidelines and compliance mechanisms under the government to provide accurate information to all students. We are liable for the information we give out publicly and we are answerable because we are registered in Bhutan.

There are still students who use the services of overseas consultants that are not registered in Bhutan and when something goes wrong after it was advertised that they   guarantee….no one can hold them accountable; the student loses.

Question what you see and hear on social media, messaging from sources online does not make it fact. It’s information, maybe right, maybe wrong.

That’s your responsibility to fact check.

Information from registered ECPF’s in Bhutan is your first step in the right direction.

Do your research and be prepared to ask questions from your provider.