One local basketball coach expressed his concerns over the recent trend of the United States Embassy rejecting student visa applications and severely limiting educational opportunities.
Speaking under the condition of anonymity, he questioned whether decision makers have considered the adverse effects of the recent policy which has led to the rejection about “50 per cent” of visa applications for Bahamian high school students wishing to study in America.
“The fact of the matter is that many of our programmes are predicated on getting kids off to school to get that opportunity to further their education and being a student athlete is a necessary component to that,” he said, “I have been assisting students through this process for over about two decades now and I’ve never seen it as bad as this. I have never had kids denied until last summer and this year it is even worse. There has to be something more to this, but whatever the reasons, young student athletes are missing out on opportunities and they have such a small window to take advantage as it is.”
In June, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell said the rise in rejections came about due to the embassay’s concerns of human trafficking.
“Many of these schools these players are getting denied to are not the ones involved in any scheme or anything of that nature. I think the embassy has to be upset with something the government done because this makes no sense to me. If we continue denying these kids, they are going to be frustrated, kids are going to end up doing things they should not be doing because of a lack of opportunity. This has to be political and its hurting the kids,” he said, “If a school has a I-20 form in their system then that mean they are already approved and accredited, so that can’t be an excuse. If that’s the case they should not be in the system. The process to get in that system takes months and if they are not happy they’re removed from that system. There has to be something else at play here, we are aware this is a subjective process but a lot of people here are suffering because of these recent changes.”
Mr Mitchell said that some high schools in the US are luring Bahamian students with promises of college scholarships and a future career in basketball. However, once the child leaves the Bahamas to attend the school, administrators withhold the children’s passports, isolate them from their parents and force them to work to “earn their keep.”
“There is a suspicion that there is a high level of fraud going on and they have indicated to us that parents should be very concerned about the schools their children are applying to. It is important because basketball is something that drives young males and young females out of this country, but young males in particular it drives them to want to leave school in the Bahamas and go to high school in the United States. They do this to obtain eligibility to get scholarships to go to college. But the problem is, we have been told, that these schools are not what they are cracked up to be. There is a suspicion that these schools have been involved in things which approximate to trafficking of persons,” he said “In some cases there have been allegations of passports being held by the schools, parents not gaining access to their children, the children are told they get scholarships but once they get there they are told they need to work off their debt at the school. So all of these things are contrary to what is presented by the school.”
Mr Mitchell said he was told by the US Embassy that US law does not permit officials to reveal the names of the schools involved in the scheme.