For Ramisa, this year could have been a great time as she was supposed to land Centennial College in Toronto. And the year could be a remarkable start for Your Counselor – a Dhaka-based fresher immigration consulting agency that had been processing Ramisa's application.
But, the year seems like a holdup for the both parties. Due to the pandemic, Ramisa's admission has been deferred until January, 2021.
"I have lost one academic year. But this is relieving that I have a second chance out there through the assistance of Your Counselor," Ramisa said, adding she never had experienced interruption in her entire academic life like this one.
Ramisa Huq is among the hundreds of thousands of students who cherish to be enrolled in world-class educational institutions. According to the latest data from UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the number of Bangladeshi students in foreign educational institutions is on the rise.
According to UNESCO data, 23,036 Bangladeshi students enrolled in numerous foreign universities in 2012, while the number jumped to 55,675 in 2017.
Given the growing quest of securing foreign university degrees amid falling quality of higher education in Bangladesh, four visa consultants launched Your Counselor in November last year. When the firm was about to go at full sail prior to the peak January-February admission session, the pandemic had emerged impeding the educational activities.
In February, the consultancy firm opened Ramisa's admission file. As her admission has been delayed, her visa processing as well, hence, the firm cannot ask her for the service charges. This is like a rebate until the applicant gets enrolment. However, in this pandemic, Your Counselor was the only consultancy firm to secure Ramisa an admission from a North American institution.
"Eventually, we had to limit our office activities in Mirpur when the countrywide shutdown was enforced," said Mazadur Rahman, Chief Financial Officer of Your Counselor. Rahman is among the four founding entrepreneurs.
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics data say that the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Malaysia, Germany, Japan and India are among the most sought-after destinations for Bangladeshi students.
Following the trend, Your Counselor operators established contacts with more than 1,500 universities and schools in the US, Canada, Malaysia, the UK and India.
During January and February, the consultancy firm had expected to process a good number of applications monthly.
But it was less than what the agency had expected so as the pandemic had also hit the destination countries. The admissions had been deferred until January 2021.
Although the virus-led shutdown ended in June, normalcy in business has yet to return. May-June admission session saw minimal applicants. Despite the holdup, Your Counselor is keeping its operation running.
Your Counselor is not the only one bearing the brunt of the pandemic, other established visa consultancy firms in the country also have faced the deadlock, said Foreign Admission and Career Development Consultant Association of Bangladesh (FACD-CAB) officials.
The registered association has 409 executive members and 1,154 general members. More than 5,000 people directly depend on the business. On April 20, the association sent a letter to the prime minister seeking her attention.
FACD-CAB Executive Member Md Abdur Rouf has been running Dreamland Student Consultancy for last nine years. The firm has three branches in Dhaka, Sylhet and Chattogram.
In normal time, Dreamland processes 150-200 student visas in January-February session and 70-80 in September-October session. This year, the firm, like others, has witnessed two consecutive dull sessions.
Despite this, Rouf said, "I am bearing Tk3.20 lakh operational cost per month – mostly house rent and staff salary. To meet the costs, I have already sold my other properties only to survive in the business."
Saiful Islam, owner of Dominate Computer – a computer sales and service centre in Banashree, Dhaka — stepped in student visa consultancy business at the beginning of this year. In this competitive business, the struggle of the newcomers to go on is very common even in the normal situation. Saiful used to take Tk5,000 as service charge, comparatively lower than others, to attract clients.
Before March, Saiful's achievement was minimal. When the pandemic hit, he had to shorten his office space -- from three rooms to only one – as Tk40,000 monthly rent was not bearable anymore. He shifted his shop online and offered technical support to boost e-commerce sites -- all for the survival.
"Unfortunately, none of the initiatives have received positive responses. A few days ago, my wife went under a major surgery. I had to borrow all the medical expenses from my relatives," Saiful regretted.
However, he is hopeful about student visa processing to resume soon prior to the upcoming January-February session. And he would be able to repay the relatives.
FACD-CAB Executive Member Rouf is also hopeful. But he believes that without the government's intervention, small consultancy firms would fail to revive businesses.
"Many of us have already incurred a huge loss. To offset this, we need government support," he added.