Hopes crushed by degrees of extortion in the Philippines

Hopes crushed by degrees of extortion in the Philippines

Indian medical students fleeced by agents, colleges

When 17-year old Anjali*, the daughter of a small shopkeeper in Gujarat, went to the Philippines in March 2015, she was fuelled by an education loan and dreams of becoming the first doctor in her family. When she returned home in January 2021, she had her hard-earned medical degree, but had also been robbed of $12,000 courtesy an unscrupulous agent, saddled with an additional loan, and put through six months of harassment and threats of losing her visa for fees she had already paid.

Anjali (name changed on request) is one of the 15,000 Indian students who head to the Pacific island nation for a medical education every year, lured by easier admission criteria and lower fees than in India’s private medical colleges. But the promises soon turned sour for Anjali and several other Indian students.

Embassy advisory

Having received a slew of complaints of exploitation by colleges and agents, the Indian Embassy in Manila issued an advisory to prospective students earlier this month, warning them of the pitfalls on the road to medical qualifications.

Anjali finished Class 12 in 2014 without the scores to get a medical college seat in India. She chose the Philippines for its widespread use of English, temperate weather, and promise of low fees.

However, the agent kept delaying her departure claiming that her visa could not come through until she paid $12,000 in fees for the pre-medical course. Taking a bank loan, she complied.

Like most Indian medical students in the Philippines, Anjali entered the country on a tourist visa on the agent’s advice, who tutored her to tell immigration officials she was entering the country only for a few weeks to write an exam.

The embassy advisory said it had received complaints about agents who confiscated students’ passports and then charged them exorbitant fees for immigration procedures to convert the tourist visa to a student visa. Anjali did not face such issues, but a few days after classes started at Our Lady of Fatima University, she got a notice that the college had not received her pre-medical course fees.

“I showed them the receipt that I had paid the agent, but they would not accept it. The agent had gone missing,” she said.

RP, another student who wanted to be identified only by his initials, said his agent had not told him that he had to first complete a pre-medical Bachelor’s degree and score well in a medical entrance test before joining the medical programme.

“In India, the agent talks to you with honey in his mouth,” said the Chennai native. “Once you are in the Philippines, there are so many conditions, so many ways for them to fleece you. The reality is different.”

The Embassy said it had received complaints of an “education mafia” of agents and colleges who conspired to extort money. Its advisory urged students to deal directly with colleges, but students say some colleges insist on using agents.

In Anjali’s case, the college allowed her to complete the pre-medical course, medical degree and clinical internship before it brought up the issue of the missing fees again, in August 2020. The college authorities later dropped another bombshell, claiming that the annual medical degree fees of $3,750 which she had paid for four years should have actually been $5,000. Without the money being paid, it refused to release her degrees or support her visa extension request.

In December 2020, with Anjali facing threats of deportation from the Philippines, her brother took a loan from the factory he works in to help meet the university’s additional demands and finally return home.

“It was a good education with a U.S.-style curriculum, but I don’t want anyone else to go through this torture. So I am glad the Embassy is issuing warnings to students,” Anjali said, noting that her college had 400 Indian students when she joined, which had grown to 5,000 by the time she left.

“Someday, I want to get a post-graduate specialisation in pediatrics or medicine here in India itself,” she said, adding that those dreams will have to be put on hold while she gets a job to pay off the loans, and support her family.

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