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Shanghai consultants profiting on US visa problems
( 2004-01-06 09:07) (eastday.com)

Liu Yue says her dream of studying in the United States would never have come true without the help of highly priced visa consultants, who she paid thousands of yuan for help after the US Consulate in Shanghai turned down her visa application twice.

"They saved me from despair and brought me new hope," said Liu, 24, who was admitted into a post-graduate business program at a renowned US university in October.

Although she wasn't offered any scholarships, she applied for US visa in November and December 2003. Her applications were denied, because she failed to clarify how she would support herself financially in America.

That's when she decided to pay for help.

"I think they are good people. They are really professionals and have a systematic way of handling hard cases like mine," said Liu.

She wouldn't say how much money she paid the company for its help, but such consultants often charge thousands of yuan to help someone get a US visa.

"As long as I can go to America, the money I paid to them will be worthwhile," said Liu. "After having devoted so much money, energy and spirit to the cause, there's no way to give up before trying all possible paths."

The consultants say they aren't breaking any laws and they provide a useful, if expensive, service - one they argue is made necessary by the poor service the US Consulate provides.

"You stand only a 40 to 50 percent of the chance of passing the interview currently. But if you leave everything to us, the success rate will rise to 85 percent," one consultant told an undercover Shanghai Daily reporter last week.

The first step in getting a US visa is to pay 830 yuan (US$100) and fill out an application form, which is easy enough for most people. The next step, however, is often far more frustrating.

Applicants are supposed to call the consulate to set up a face-to-face interview. But many complain of calling the consulate for days on end and only getting a busy tone.

That's where the consultants begin to attract customers. For 100 yuan they will set up the interview for you. Of course, once they start working for you they push all the other services they can provide, such as helping you prepare all required documents and fill out application forms and teaching you a few tips to improve your chances of success.

Finding the consultants is no problem, they find you. Dozens of touts wander around the consulate's visa office on the 8th floor of the Westgate Mall on Nanjing Road W looking for people who seem confused by the application process.

Applicants are quickly taken to a tiny office on the mall's 26th floor where six or seven consultants work their magic. The company charges each customer 14,000 yuan if they successfully get a visa. If the application fails, 12,000 yuan is returned to the customer.

One consultant, who would only give his surname, Zhang, said his company only accepts qualified customers whose visa applications were refused due to insufficient information about the US visa policy and poor preparation for the interview.

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