Of the 23, 18 are still in Malaysia with expired visa 

After an education consultancy firm failed to deliver the promised student visa and allegedly duped 23 students, parents of 18 students who are stuck in Malaysia on expired visa are expected to meet education ministry officials today for their help to bring their children home.

The students are among the 23 who had applied for student visa and enrollment at Victoria International College, Kuala Lampur Campus in Malaysia, through Drupthop Education Consultancy & Placement Firm (Drupthop ECPF) in 2016.

Of the 23, five students who managed to come home sought help from the court and police to get a refund of the money they paid Drupthop ECPF. Each student paid Nu 280,000 as tuition fee and student visa fee.

On June 8, five students jointly submitted a petition at the Thimphu dzongkhag court requesting the court to help them recover Nu 1.360 million (M) from the proprietor of Drupthop ECPF, Chhimi Rinzin, after she reportedly went missing. The amount was paid to Chhimi Rinzin as tuition fees for a three-year Bachelors and two-year diploma in hospitality management.

The court however informed them that it was no use filing a case if they did not know the defendant’s whereabouts.  “Court officials told us that we can file our case only if we produce the defendant before the court,” one of the students, Doley Tshering, 24, said.

All students are from humble economic background who availed loans to pay the consultancy firm.

“We are in a dilemma because the proprietor Chhimi Rinzin is still at large,” an uncle of another student Lham Tenzin told Kuensel. “We even approached the chief of police who directed the city police to look into the matter,” he added. The city police then asked them to follow up the case with the ministry of education.

Chhimi Rinzin reportedly disappeared after she failed to comply with the third internal agreement executed between the Drupthop ECPF and aggrieved parents of five students. The parties signed the agreement on April 6, 2017 in presence of officials from the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Division, representing the Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) as witness.

As per the agreement, Chhimi Rinzin would refund the money by May 31 and handover the academic transcripts safely to the parents/guardians/students at the earliest. The aggrieved parents also agreed to waive off the interest component of the actual principal amount deposited into the firm account in 2016 if the firm refunds their money by May 31.

“Since then we have been looking for her,” one of the aggrieved students’ relative said. “Drupthop ECPF’s Managing director Kuenley Tshering Dorji, who was actively involved in the consultancy, informed us that his employer is in Kolkata. But we learnt that she is in Paro,” he said.

He said that Kuenley Tshering assured us through WeChat that he would refund our money within a week as he is waiting for his money to be transferred.

Accompanied by Chhimi Rinzin and Kuenley Tshering Dorji, all 23 students travelled to New Delhi, India on December 22 last year to process for student visa in Malaysia.

Doley Tshering said the proprietor told them it would take only five days to process their visas but it took nine days. “Our passports were carried and processed by the duo at the airport,” he recalled. “We thought we were travelling to Malaysia on student visas.”

The students came to know that they were on tourist visas when their visas expired. Then, Chhimi Rinzin told them to fly back to New Delhi to obtain student visa, which may take only five days and to keep their luggage in Malaysia.

“We flew to Delhi in the first week of February this year but failed to get student visas even after waiting for almost two months there,” Doley Tshering said. They were kept in a hotel on the outskirts of Delhi for a room charge of Rs 1,000 a night. Each student paid Rs 450 while the firm paid Rs 550.

The students’ parents were unaware of the visa problem. When they learnt about it, they immediately approached the firm’s office in Changzamtok on March 14. There, they again executed another agreement where Chhimi Rinzin repeatedly assured all parents that the 23 students would be taken to Malaysia before March 30 on student visa.

The agreement also stated that if the firm failed to take the students back to Malaysia on the specified date, she has to pay the amount deposited by the parents along with interest as per the existing law. She was also supposed to bring all students home safely.

The firm also agreed to pay USD 300 to each student for March and adjust the expenses incurred in February from the tuition fees.

However, after the students in Delhi could not obtain their student visas, they travelled to Kolkata by train on April 1. Five of the 23 students decided to return home the next day. “We returned home because we knew that we would suffer further and the possibility of getting student visa was slim,” Doley Tshering said.

He said that the remaining 18 students managed to fly back to Malaysia with a month-long special permit after spending about two weeks in Kolkata. Their special permit visas reportedly expired on June 7.

Chief programme officer of DAHE, NB Raika, personally visited Malaysia to see the condition of 18 students after the department received a complaint from the students who returned home.  He managed to meet only seven there. “Five of them were staying idle in an apartment without any work,” NB Raika said.

He said that the rest of the students got part time jobs although their special permit visas expired on June 7. “Of the seven students I met, six wanted to return home because they don’t feel safe there,” he said. “I advised them to return home as soon as possible to process student visa and go back to Malaysia. However, he has not heard from them since then.

A female student who is among the 18 still in Malaysia wrote in the Victoria parents WeChat group, “We have been homeless, sleeping on empty stomach and the only thing left for us is to go behind bars.”

Drupthop ECPF has also illegally deployed five Bhutanese women as housemaids to United Arab Emirates and Oman. A woman had already returned home and the Bhutan Embassy in Kuwait is working on sending the remaining four home.

Today, Bhutan has 37 Education Consultancies including Drupthop ECPF.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said the government has revoked few licenses of agencies involved in such practices, and the issue will be taken very seriously. “The government has directed the Bhutanese missions abroad to facilitate our students and workers who are facing difficulties returning home,” he said during an interaction with senior journalists on June 16.

Rinzin Wangchuk