Cambodian travelers and workers seeking out destinations in Europe, Australia or the US are labeled as high flight risks by western nations. Often times, embassy staff members, trained in strict immigration laws are preconditioned to assume the worst and believe Cambodian citizens’ ultimate goal is to overstay their visa and become illegal immigrants. This belief creates a frustrating dilemma for Cambodians with legitimate reasons and financial means to travel. Acquiring a foreign visa can be a long drawn-out and confusing process if applicants don’t have the proper guidance.
That is where Rasmey Sokmongkol, or Raz for short, steps in. Since 2001, his company East West Visa Services has been devoted to streamlining the process and bettering the chance of success.
He said however that “success can never be guaranteed.”At least by following his guidance, the odds greatly increase.
Over the years he has seen the same scenarios: applicants who seek out his services as a last resort. According to him, the headache and disappointment could easily have been avoided if they would have come to him in the first place.
Nevertheless, the battle he wages by bridging the gap between immigration officials and applicants is often fought on a cultural field.
“Because of Cambodian culture, people have been trained to lie in order to save face, especially to those in a position of authority,” he said, adding that it is not straight out lying, but rather an ingrained assumption that it is better to tell officials what they think they want to hear instead of the truth.
Even if an applicant has failed numerous times, which is too often the case, there is one simple way to remedy the situation: honesty.
“I tell my clients that if they have failed before when they shouldn’t have, but claimed things that are not true, for the next interview just go in and admit the mistake. Apologize and tell them the truth and be humble,” he explained from his office on Sothearos Blvd directly across from the Russian Embassy. Indeed, honesty can wipe the slate clean.
According to him, his clients are either Cambodians who want to visit family members abroad, displaced refugees from Cambodia’s turbulent past, or who simply want to enjoy a leisurely holiday. But, as one of the only immigration services recognized by the Australian government, he also helps place skilled and trained Cambodian workers in jobs from reputable companies across the world. Additionally, he has United States immigration specialists on his team.
Another one of the obstacles applicants face is compiling the proper documentation before an interview. This is especially difficult when immigration officials need to see bank statements, letters of employment, marriage certificates, government IDs, land titles, birth certificates and proof of foreign sponsorship.
The first step when a potential client visits his office is to verify if they are indeed eligible for a visa. If they fit the standards of being pre-qualified, he then hands them a checklist of the necessary documents needed for the application. Upon receiving the documents, his team checks their authenticity.
This in itself is another common barrier. “[Because] Cambodia doesn’t value proper documentation, identities and records can easily be fabricated,” he said.
Once the documents have been verified and Sokmongkol has sifted through the applicants’ lives—regularly gathering anything that helps whether that be email or phone records, to Facebook messages—his role as a storyteller and guidance counselor comes into play as he crafts compelling, evidence-based, narratives and coaches his clients how to speak and act in preparation of an embassy interview.
According to Sokmongkol, the most common cause for visa rejection is when applicants do not seek out proper services and are often referred, by word of mouth, to charlatans moonlighting as visa agents “that tell applicants what they want to here,” he said. It is no secret that fraudulent services are rife in Cambodia, but when it comes to visas and immigration, the nexus between black market promises and a chance to successfully be granted a visa, cannot be understated.
Even though these supposed agents weigh down the process with unfulfilled promises, fraudulent documents, and costly consultations, Sokmongkol reminds his clients that hope is not lost.
That is why East West Visa Services offers a full refund if an embassy finds a reason for rejection and “why it is better to go to a legitimate company that do everything by the book and who actually serve the customers interests,” he said.