The education secretary has written to the foreign secretary yesterday seeking the ministry’s support to repatriate 18 Bhutanese students who are stuck in Malaysia on expired visa. Seven of them are females.

An official from the Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) said the education ministry wrote the letter to the foreign ministry after the special passes for the students expired on June 7.

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

Each student paid Nu 280,000 (about USD 4,307) as tuition fee and student visa fee.

A copy of the secretary’s letter has also been sent to the Royal Bhutan Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand for further perusal. When Kuensel contacted Ambassador Tshewang C. Dorji on the course of action to be pursued by the Embassy, he said he hasn’t received any directives from the ministry.

Drupthop ECPF proprietor Chhimi Rinzin had taken students to Malaysia on tourist visa in December 2016. The letter stated that the students were never informed that they were on tourist visa. When they arrived in Malaysia, they were asked to attend classes at the Victoria International College without formal admission and a valid visa.

The students who returned home could not attend the month long class because they didn’t have student visa and their passports were not with them. “We were staying idle in the apartment doing nothing,” one of the five who returned home, Doley Tshering said.

When their tourist visa expired in January this year, Chhimi Rinzin asked them to go to New Delhi, India to process for student visa promising that it would take about five days. After two months of their stay in New Delhi, they were informed that their visa has been processed and were asked to travel to Malaysia through Kolkata.  While five students returned home, 18 of them went to Malaysia only to find out that their visas had not been granted.

The letter stated that Chhimi Rinzin arranged for Ravi, her agent in Malaysia, to get the students out of the airport. They were made to stay in an apartment without any progress in their visa process. By the first week of May, Ravi arranged to stamp special passes for which Chhimi was asked to pay additional 3,200 Malaysian Ringgit (about Nu 51,000). He had taken all the passports and indicated that it shall be released only upon payment he made to stamp the special passes.

Some parents reported the case to the DAHE. An agreement was drawn between the parents and Chhimi Rinzin on May 16 where she agreed to bring back the students by May 25 and bear all expenses incurred thereof. However, on the same evening, she called Ravi and asked him to arrange work for the students. “This was a turning point of her stand after which we could not contact her despite all our efforts,” the letter signed by the education secretary Karma Yeshey stated. “She failed to abide by the agreement.”

Meanwhile, Chhimi also executed another agreement with the parents of five students who returned home. The parties signed the agreement on April 6 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.

However, she reportedly disappeared after she failed to comply with the third internal agreement.

“Given the current scenario, their safety and security are at risk,” the letter stated. “While the students do not seem to be aware of their future and the department has exhausted all means to resolve the issue at the ministerial level, the ministry would like to seek your support for their safe return at the earliest.”

Meanwhile, students in Malaysia are hopeful that they may get training visa as their firm started sending payment for the visa. Few students want to return home. “Chhimi’s husband is going to finalise tomorrow about the full payment for those who wish to stay in Malaysia,” a student said. “Until now the agent has been providing us cash for food and lodge.”

DAHE yesterday issued a notification suspending the licences of three education firms including Drupthop ECPF.

Rinzin Wangchuk