To Ajay Sharma, Founder and President of Abhinav Immigration services, it seems like yesterday. But the journey has not been easy. He recounted his early days when the word “Immigration” or “Permanent Residence Visa” was considered to be confused with an “overseas job.” Since 1994, Educating people about the difference between the two has been the biggest challenge and, also the achievement. And to be counted as amongst the top Immigration consultants in India, a matter of pride.
He also shared the changed dynamics of immigrating out of India over the last 27 years. Initially, the essential purpose was to make money or “earn dollars,” as they say. Around the beginning of the new century, it became “law and Order,” followed by “better study for children.” Another decade forward, it turned into “overall quality of life, followed by “high pollution in India” and finally, post-covid, “value of life.”
The new century brought in more changes. More Indians started going to study abroad than ever before. And the businessmen and high net worth individuals started relocating to expand or shift their business to developed countries. The latter started going under Immigrant Investor programs and, in some instances, against property investment. The middle east was a major attraction because of easy accessibility, short travel, and easy visa regime. But what worked against the middle east was its reluctance to offer permanent residency, irrespective of the duration of stay and investment. No one wants continued uncertainty of living on extended temporary resident status. That is why they started looking at investment visa options provided by European and North American Universities.
Ajay Sharma also shared, with amusement, his experiences of how the marketing of the immigration consulting and study abroad industry has changed over the years. From doing major publicity campaigns in newspapers, doing seminars, printing, mailing, and distributing expensive brochures, participating in trade and professional exhibitions, and shift to the internet and fast-changing digital market space – he has seen, experienced, and worked around everything. Competing with the young and upcoming generation of young entrepreneurs already familiar with the internet phenomenon has been a significant challenge.
Sharing some interesting observations over the years, he said the most straightforward visas become challenging to get and vice versa!! But whenever a step to immigrate is taken with elders’ blessings and their knowledge, the results are mostly positive. In his opinion, this cannot be a coincidence and is in sync with the Indian culture. On the funny side, he laughed at the plethora of websites of immigration and visa consulting company’s – all self-proclaiming to be number one in India and some instances even in Asia or the world! He is happy with being counted as being amongst the pioneers in the industry in India. Looking back with satisfaction, he observed that besides him, there are just a couple of other regionally-based Immigration agencies still operational since 1994.
Amongst Key milestones and significant events that were game-changers for the immigration industry, he recounts IT meltdown in the late ’90s, 9/11, the recession of 2008, and multiple instances of unexpected and overnight immigration regulatory policy changes by governments like the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Such events and changes impacted all, be it professionals, businessmen, or students.
Among his biggest regrets is that the immigration, visa, and study abroad consulting industry is still not regulated in India, despite its size. This is unlike all the critical destinations like the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. While in all these countries, its functioning is tightly controlled, there is a total vacuum in India. As an example, he talked about Canada. There is a strict regulatory regime wherein even the Indian companies involved in the immigration consulting business must be presented by one of the ICCRC (regulatory body appointed by the government of Canada) and work as their agents. But the mechanism is twisted by even the topmost companies in various ways. The client agreements are signed directly with the company stating that they are not offering immigration consulting services. In other instances, the websites carry the details of ICCRC agents who represent them, no such representation is being provided in reality to every client. In that context, compliant immigration consultants in India like Abhinav Immigration suffer on account of high operational costs.
Ajay Sharma said that the company plans to achieve – in the next 27 months – what it managed in 27 years!! This will be handled through aggressive activity in four focus areas:
Abhinav Immigration also has plans to increase its billing, from current levels, by five times over the next five years. This implies an annual billing above Rupees 125- 150 crores. The staff strength is also planned to be increased to around 1000. Abhinav Immigration intends to go for an IPO once that target has been achieved. The company is focused on digitization and formulating an advanced technology-based solution for its marketing, sales, and client servicing.
In his opinion, the internet has shrunk the world, and the globe has become one single village. Mobility will continue to increase, and with it, the need for the regulated environment for immigration, study abroad, and visa consulting industry.