The human cost of the Australian visa scam

Scam: For six months, Zam (Not real name) rarely ventured out of her room. As the days became months, Zam also lost her appetite.

When she finally did work up the courage to leave her room six months later, her skin hung onto her bones. Zam was depressed and had lost a dangerous amount of weight.

Since then, the 27-year-old from Trongsa has been frequently visiting the hospital for treatment. “I did not know how I spent the last six months,” said Zam, who is now on the path to recovery.

Zam became depressed after she spent close to Nu 1.02 million (M) for an Australian work visa, which was later found to be fake. She had been conned by a Bhutanese national and an Indian national, who are currently on the run.

She sold her car, borrowed money from her relatives, and even availed a loan from a bank to pay the fake agents, who also cheated 19 other Bhutanese off more than Nu 9M in total.

Zam has been hoping for the past two years that the fake agents will refund her.

But the Bhutanese national, Kinga Namgyel, who once ran another business in Bajo town in Wangduephodrang, has left the country and is on the run. Zam paid him Nu 500,000.

Zam also paid Nu 700,000 to Indian national, Ali Idris, who was based in Kolkata, India. He too has disappeared.

Her bank loan has been overdue for almost a year and she has not been able to repay the money she borrowed from her relatives.

“My life is completely ruined,” she said.

Zam is not the only one who has been looking for the agents. There are 19 others.

Among them are Namgay and his wife who paid Nu 2M to the fake agents through their representatives in Bhutan.

The couple pays Nu 43,000 a month as interest for borrowing money they spent on the fake visas.

They mortgaged their land in Babesa, Thimphu and a car to borrow money from private lenders. They also have a bank loan which has been overdue for almost three months. “We are completely lost and do not know how to repay the borrowings,” said Namgay.

Recently they had to close down their shop in Thimphu after they ran out of money.

The visa scam has ruined the lives of some families. A woman who lives in Thimphu had to divorce her husband after he hit her following her demands for a refund.

“Despite the huge loss I did try to understand the problem but he went wild,” she said.

The couple has two children aged 10 and seven. “Of course it’s difficult to raise two kids as a single mother but there is no option,” she said.

The woman said the root cause of the family break up is because of the fake visas. “I asked my husband to study the situation before throwing money but he did not listen,” she said.

The couple borrowed around Nu 1M and paid the agent through one of their representatives.

Both the representatives are currently in police custody after they failed to reimburse the money to the clients.

The Thimphu district court gave them time to mobilise the money owed but they failed. It was learned that they have been in custody for more than two months.

Earlier the representatives admitted that one of them collected Nu 3.66M from 12 clients, and the other one collected Nu 2.98M from three clients.

However, they said that the money was handed over to the agent and their Bhutanese partner in India.

The representatives dealt with the clients by collecting visa and medical check-up fees, documents such as passports and academic transcripts, and escorted the clients to Kolkata for a medical check up and to process the visas.

The agent and the accomplices promised Australian work visas for two years for Nu 1.05M. It also covers free accommodation, free food and travel to Australia.

After making initial payments, some clients received job offer letters from the agent, which had a list of hotels in Australia that were willing to employ the clients but later found to be fake.

Some even received work visas, which were also later found to have been faked after close examinations. The clients also found out later that the Australian government does not issue work visas to Bhutanese.

Many clients are hopeful that the government will intervene and bring the culprits to justice and help minimise their losses.

“We are waiting for the government to handle the issue,” said one of the clients.

They have appealed to the prime minister.

Tenzin Namgyel

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