Often active on social media, companies offer to book appointments on behalf of individuals who want to study in the US. In a Facebook group dedicated to F1 student visas, one wrote: “If anyone is really looking for F1 visa slots, message me (Freshers and rejected), we monitor 24/7. Payment only after slot confirmation.”
Companies ask students for their registration details and monitor appointment availability. When new slots become available, they reserve them on behalf of their customers, leaving those who haven’t paid for the service struggling to secure their own seats. In some cases, scalpers appear to be bulk-booking blocks of appointments for a general sale at a later date, rather than reserving them for specific customers.
Sushil Sukhwani, founder and director of Edwise, said that buying visa slots through companies in India has become “common practice” since the fall of 2020, when the appointment shortage began. Edwise does not book appointments on behalf of students.
Agents said that legitimate education agencies do not offer these services, but some travel agencies may. Often companies provide these services for multiple types of visas, not just student visas.
“These agents promise to get an earlier visa,” Sukhwani said. “They also claim to have ties to consular officials at several US consulates and are working with them to get an earlier visa.
“Students don’t realize that agents don’t have any special powers. They, the students and the travel agencies, have to follow the same process and procedure when booking a slot.”
“This practice seriously affects us”
According to sources, students can pay anywhere between $100 and $1,000 for the service, on top of their regular application fees.
“This practice is seriously affecting us and leading to students not meeting their program start dates and also causing concern to these students and their parents as we as a reputed agency refuse to engage in or support such activity,” Sukhwani said.
“This leads to us being seen as unsupportive and also leads to reduced registrations due to lack of visa slots. Our registration and revenue goals are affected.”
Last year, the US consulate in India acknowledged that the practice had become a “real problem”.
Don Heflin, ministerial adviser on consular affairs, said in April 2022: “We are trying to beat these people who book a lot of appointments and then sell them for more money.
“That was a real problem for us”
“That’s been a real problem for us because not all the appointments they book result in people showing up, so we’ll think we’re going to do that many interviews in a week, and it turns out we’re going to do five.” ten, twenty percent less than that. These are slots that could have gone to good applicants.”
He said appointments were being released in “certain ways” to prevent this, including not announcing a release date.
The American consulate in Nigeria also spoke about the problem last year. Susan Tuller, country consular coordinator in Nigeria, said the visa system is being “manipulated” by visa brokers.
“As long as Nigerians continue to pay very high appointment fees, this is likely to continue and it will be very difficult for us to control the number of visa appointments we make available,” Tuller said.
“There is no reason to pay any additional fees to a visa broker or travel agent.”
A Foreign Office spokesman told The PIE: “Many temporary visitors contact visa consultants before scheduling interviews. While some consultants provide useful information, many do not. Be wary of recruiters who do not detail what services will be provided for a specific fee.
“We monitor our systems and processes, including the visa processing system, for evidence of fraud, abuse and malpractice and take action as necessary.”
The Foreign Office has advised any student who is due to enter university soon but has not been able to secure a visa to send and apply through your emergency appointment module.
The US is struggling to keep up with demand as more and more Indians want to study there. The number of Indian students enrolled in US institutions increased by 19% in 2021/22 compared to the previous year, representing 21% of all international students in the country.
Staffing capacity at US embassies has also been reduced during the pandemic, and the consequences are still being felt. Currently, wait times for F visa interviews at the five US embassies in India range from 52 to 81 days.
India is the Foreign Office’s “highest priority,” according to a government spokesman.
“The people-to-people links between our countries mean we have very high demand across many visa categories,” they said.
“We have committed significant resources to improving appointment wait times in India and are committed to providing our employees with the tools, resources and support they need to further reduce appointment wait times.”
Despite these issues, agents said they felt the U.S. was making real efforts to address the appointment shortage and that the delays would be resolved in time for the fall 2023 adoption.