After recently meeting with clients we once again heard of the difficulties that some prospective migrants face when choosing a migration agent, and it pains us to say that we believe there are misleading agents out there. We don’t like to point the finger at others, so we won’t, but we will give you some useful information about how to choose a suitable Australian migration agency to help you through the process.
Unfortunately, the immigration industry often gets a bad name. The reason being, there are people and/or businesses out there that simply do not put their clients’ needs first.
We operate in a service driven environment and we cannot understand why individuals and/or businesses choose to treat their clients disrespectfully. Not only is it bad practice, in some cases it’s immoral and causes unnecessary stress, tension and anxiety for the client.
In our personal lives, we are consumers too. We know how if feels to be disappointed with services or products and we despise businesses who purposely “cheat” their clients. Inspired by the feedback we recently heard from our clients we thought it would be appropriate to put together a guide to help you along during your immigration endeavours.
1. Target driven migration agents / sales teams
The first signal that should start the alarm bells ringing is when you feel pressured into signing up with a particular company or agent. There are businesses out there that employ specialist sales personnel simply to sign you up, instead of giving you the time to choose a suitable migration representative.
We’ve heard of cases where clients did not even qualify for a visa at the time they entered an agreement (and paid the fee).
If a prospective visa applicant doesn’t qualify for a visa at the time the agreement is presented, there are no grounds for entering a contract. It’s that simple. In fact, taking money from a client who isn’t eligible for a visa is no different to theft. The worst thing about it is, most of the time they get away with it!
Luckily, migration agents operating in Australia must be registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority, so this won’t happen often, but outside Australia it’s a whole different ball game. Unregistered agents operating outside Australia aren’t regulated, and therefore they cannot be reported to a regulating body.
2. False or misleading immigration information
It can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint when you are given false or misleading information, so it’s advised to stay alert and verify the information that you are given. If it sounds wrong, or you don’t believe what you’ve been told, try asking more than one agent. Often times you will get a completely different response.
There are agents out there who will give misleading or inaccurate advice for numerous reasons. Here are a few examples:
- Inexperience – green agents sometimes prefer to make up an answer just to look more professional *
- Over complication – complicating things can lead to the client feeling vulnerable and may therefore entice them to sign up with that particular agent
- Scaremongering – creating an element of fear may cause a client to act on impulse and enter an agreement without considering the consequences
* In reality it’s better to admit when we don’t know something, than to give incorrect advice. Each case is individual and should be treated that way. If a migration agent doesn’t immediately know the answer to your question, don’t be deterred by it. It simply means they are being honest.
There are so many variables in a person’s life so it’s nearly impossible to have the answer to every scenario. So bear in mind that an agent who is willing to research your case, is probably the agent who will get you over the line.
3. Relevant experience
Just like every other industry, experience counts for a large part of a migration agent’s professional capacity. If you would like to appoint a migration representative, look for an agent who has at least 3 years practical experience in the industry.
In many cases, the more experience an agent has, the more they are likely to charge so be wary of inexperienced agents who charge more than experienced agents.
Australian immigration laws and requirements are updated frequently. Experienced agents will generally have a better grasp of what the requirements are, and how to interpret them.
Government caseworkers don’t leave much room for error and will sometimes make a decision without requesting further information from the client. In order to strengthen your application, an experienced agent will know exactly what a caseworker will look for in your application. Generally speaking, an inexperienced agent will not.
4. User / client feedback
These days consumers are happy to share their experience with others online – even more so if they’ve had a bad experience. Researching customer feedback is therefore high on our recommendation list if you are looking for an immigration representative.
Fortunately, finding relevant information is fairly straightforward. The internet is your friend. It’s abundant with resources to help you along the way.
The first place to look is on the company or agent’s website. Most companies have a testimonials or reviews section on their site.
Another way of referencing a company’s business history is by frequenting immigration forums. Most will have a built-in search function which you can use to target specific search terms i.e. the company or agent in question.
And last, but not least, have you tried searching Google? In not, you could start by using the following keyword phrase: “company/migration agent name reviews” or “company/migration agent name complaints”. More often than not, you will find some relevant information about the company or agent you are searching for. Repeat offenders are bound to have left a trail of some sort, so if you don’t find much using these terms, it’s usually a good thing.
5. Make sure your Australian migration agent is registered
One of the key benefits of appointing a registered migration agent is that every registered agent is monitored and regulated by the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA).
In addition to paying an annual registration fee, registered migration agents must take part in continuing professional development (CPD) courses to keep their knowledge of immigration rules and regulations up to date.
How do I know if a migration agent is actively registered? Your first port of call should be the MARA’s agent finder. A MARA registration is valid for one year only. Once you’ve found an agent, it’s just a matter of verifying the most recent registration.
6. Agency fees
This is a tricky one because migration agency fees vary quite drastically, but there are a few things you should bear in mind before making your decision.
Most immigration agencies will provide you with a fee structure so that you know what you are paying for. The key here is to assess (or try to assess) value for money.
Things you should take into account:
It’s common for migration agencies to charge a consultation fee to assess or discuss visa options with prospective clients. While this is acceptable, we believe that it should also be refundable if a client proceeds with that particular company.
Most companies will charge a consultation fee in the range of $50 – $300.
This is generally where the bulk of the cost is incurred. Assisting with and preparing a visa application is a very time consuming task. It requires a considerable amount of due diligence on behalf of the agent carrying out the work.
Common tasks include:
- Providing detailed instructions
- Reviewing and scanning documents
- Providing feedback and advice
- Preparing and submitting the visa application
- Liaising with case-workers
- Responding to emails and telephone calls
Experience accounts for a large part of a migration agent’s competence to provide professional services, and should therefore also be taken into consideration when comparing quotes or fees.
Company size / structure
Sometimes bigger isn’t always better. While large organisations generally have more resources available, they will not necessarily provide better services. We know of a number of large organisations who provide very sloppy services in exchange for a significant service fees. Why do they do it? We don’t know, but we assume that all they care about is revenue.
Large companies often incur hefty overheads, which are generally passed on to the consumer – so bear that in mind before signing on the dotted line.
7. Response times
The Code of Conduct stipulates that migration agents are obliged to respond to clients in a timely and efficient manner. During the enquiry stage you aren’t technically a client yet, but you can use this time to gauge how responsive your chosen migration agent is.
There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to get on with your visa application, but instead having to wait for your agent to get back to you.
It might be worthwhile contacting the agent (if you have their contact details) before signing up, by calling or emailing just to get an indication of availability/response times. If you are not able to contact the agent directly before signing up, you should be given a legitimate reason. If there is red tape before signing up, imagine what it will be like after they have your money!
8. General attitude / interpersonal skills
Bearing in mind that it could take at least a few months for your visa application to processed and approved, you should feel comfortable with the person you appoint as your migration agent.
It makes a huge difference when you work alongside somebody who actually cares about your situation and your individual circumstances. Migrating to another country is difficult enough as it is. You definitely don’t want it to be made harder by working with an agent and/or company who don’t have your priorities aligned with theirs.
It can sometimes be difficult to judge what you’ll be faced with further down the line, so all you can do is go with your gut feeling. If it doesn’t feel right to start with, keep looking until you find someone you feel comfortable with.