Applying for a visa to Australia can be an exciting prospect, as you think about the possibilities that such a move could entail. And why wouldn’t you? The chance to experience what this amazing country has to offer, whether that be as a tourist, student, skilled migrant or for any of the other myriad of reasons why many thousands of people from across the globe choose to make the move to Australia each year is just too good an opportunity to pass up.
As exciting as it is, we do recommend that you take a pause to carefully consider some important aspects before you start planning and buying airline tickets!
What You Need To Consider When Applying For A Visa
Don’t worry, that exciting moment will come, but first before you do start organising the exciting stuff, there are some things to think about and address, to ensure that you maximise your time in Australia. The last thing you would want to have is a visa that does not allow you to do what you intended in Australia. Or worse, your application for a visa could be refused or your visa even cancelled. These are not the types of outcomes that you would want to happen, and so it is absolutely vital before you apply for any visa to Australia, that you take a number of important steps, the first being to consider what your purpose in travelling to Australia is, so that you can select the right visa option for you, based on your individual circumstances, goals and needs.
Conducting a migration assessment is by far the most important step in the visa application process, because it is at this stage that you are able to carefully review the valid visa lodgement and visa grant requirements for a particular visa subclass and determine whether you meet them. There is no point in lodging an application for a visa that you are not eligible for. This would simply be a waste of time, money and bring about potentially more serious consequences regarding your ability to apply for a further visa to Australia.
So you may ask, where do you start? Like most people, you probably know very little about the migration laws of Australia, and even more so, the intricancies that make up the myriad of migration law materials, whether that be the Migration Act, Regulations, Immigration policy, case or tribunal law among other sources that come into play when dealing with a migration matter. And you wouldn’t be expected to!
Why? Because there are migration professionals who are especially trained in this area to help you with your own visa application. Just like there are doctors, accountants, plumbers, you name it, registered migration agents are experts in the migration field, having met the requirements to be registered by the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA).
In this article, we take a closer look at what is a registered migration agent, the requirements they need to become registered (and to continue their registration) with the OMARA, the importance of engaging someone who is authorised to lawfully provide immigration assistance in Australia (which includes an Australian registered migration agent) and the potential risks of not doing so. We also explain what a registered migration agent must do, how to find or how to check if a migration agent is registered, and how to choose the right one for you.
Let us start off by explaining what a registered migration agent is.
What Is A Registered Migration Agent?
A registered migration agent is a trained professional in migration law, who is registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority.
Only registered migration agents, legal practitioners and exempt persons can lawfully provide immigration assistance in Australia. It is a legal requirement under the Migration Act 1958 for migration agents to be registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA) in order to provide immigration assistance in Australia.
What Are The Requirements For Registered Migration Agents?
There are a number of prescribed requirements to become an Australian registered migration agent in Australia and with that registration come obligations. Registered migration agents must re-apply for registration each year.
Registered migration agents must comply with the Code of Conduct for registered migration agents, which sets the rules for their conduct as registered migration agents. They must comply with the Code of Conduct to remain on OMARA’s Register.
MARA Registered migration agents must also undertake work-related learning in the form of continuing professional development (CPD) in order to maintain their registration.
CPD is designed to keep registered migration agents up-to-date with relevant migration changes in legislation and policy. There are rules about what CPD a registered migration agent must complete to meet their obligations under the Code of Conduct. This includes certain mandatory CPD activities that must be completed each year.
More About The Code Of Conduct
The Code of Conduct for registered migration agents sets out the qualities and abilities that registered migration agents must have to be on the OMARA Register. It also sets out requirements for registered migration agents to work with clients in a professional and ethical manner.
The Code directs how a registered migration agent must:
- interact with their clients;
- communicate their fees and charges;
- keep records of and handle clients’ money;
- work with other agents;
- work with any employees they may have; and
- respond if a client complains about them.
If an Australian registered migration agent breachs the Code of Conduct, the OMARA may discipline them. If the OMARA decide disciplinary action is warranted, the OMARA may do one of the following:
- caution the registered migration agent and set conditions to have the caution lifted;
- suspend their registration and set conditions to have the suspension lifted;
- cancel their registration; or
- bar the agent from registering as a migration agent for a period of up to five years.
Choose Only A Migration Agent Who Is Registered
As discussed above, there are rules about who can help you with your immigration matter. It is very important to ensure that the person who is assisting you is a MARA registered migration agent, a legal practitioner or is on the list of people who are allowed to provide immigration assistance to you (an exempt person).
Importantly, only registered migration agents, legal practitioners or an exempt person can lawfully give immigration assistance in Australia.
Registered migration agents:
- are qualified in migration law and procedure;
- are bound by a Code of Conduct to act in the interests of their client;
- have met professional standards relating to knowledge and character; and
- must be listed on the Register of Migration Agents on the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA) website.
Using someone who is not qualified to provide immigration assistance and advice poses several risks, including that the person:
- does not know about migration law;
- provides you with incorrect advice;
- makes false promises;
- tries to take advantage of your situation;
- does not handle your money in the right way (some reported cases have involved people taking large amounts of money from their clients);
- does not keep proper files;
- misplaces your important documents (including original documents); and
- fails to notify you if and when the Department grants or refuses your visa application.
The OMARA cannot take action on a complaint against a person that is not on the OMARA Register.
This is why people using migration agents are reminded to make sure they use only those who are registered.
And how to check if a migration agent is registered? Simply seach the OMARA register.
Why Is This The Case?
As discussed above, only registered migration agents can legally give immigration assistance in Australia. To do this, they must be listed on the Register of Migration Agents, held by the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority.
“Agents” who are unregistered, almost always lack the necessary expertise to perform the tasks, and invariably cause serious problems for their clients. Often, applications are never even lodged and the whole process is one big scam. Often the unregistered agent will prepare documentation but ask the applicant to lodge under his/her own name. This protects the fraudster from prosecution, but leaves the applicant exposed to the errors almost always evident in the applications.
Registered agents can assist with visa applications or other visa matters by preparing, or helping to prepare, a visa application or other document and by advising about a visa application or visa matter.They can also assist by preparing for proceedings before a court or review authority in relation to a visa application or visa matter and by representing in proceedings before a court or review authority in relation to a visa application or visa matter.
PAX Migration Australia only allows registered migration agents to work cases, and we invest heavily in professional learning, keeping up to date with the latest developments so clients can rest assured they are getting the highest quality advice every time. Contact us today to discuss how we can assist you with your migration matter.
What Sets A Registered Migration Agent Apart?
As you can see from the above, registered migration agents in Australia are subject to extensive requirements to not only register with OMARA in the first place, but to keep the registration on an ongoing basis. It is not a case of register and forget; they must ensure that they remain in compliance with their responsibilites as registered migrations agents to retain their registration.
Back to our introduction to this article where we noted the importance of treading carefully as you embark on your migration journey, in order to ensure that you reap the most benefits from your experiences in Australia. You may have thought about handling your migration matter yourself. After all, how hard could it be?
Well, the reality is that migration law is a complex area to navigate. It takes years of education, training and experience to be able to completently prepare a visa application. One that is complete and correct, with all required documents attached, and that is ‘decision-ready’ to allow the Department of Home Affairs (the Department) to decide the outcome.
Migration law is multi-faceted with multiple layers, which experts in the industry are well-equipped to deal with, as opposed to an ordinary person who has no experience or training in this area. What may be a simple concept on the face of it is often subject to more complex aspects. Take the example of full-time work if you are applying for a skilled visa. What does this mean for migration purposes? What minimum number of hours is considered full-time? What if you take work breaks, or perform part of the work on a part-time basis? What if you are studying for part of the employment period? Or you change roles midway? At what level must you perform the role? What type of evidence do you need to demonstrate that you meet this requirement? The number of questions that can arise from simply asking this one question can throw up multiple curveballs. This illustrates just one example of how complicated the migration provisions can be; and this is one of the most basic questions!
Another example is the term ‘de facto partner’ which may be relevant to you if you are applying for a partner visa. What does this actually mean? How long do you have to live together with your partner to be considered in a de facto relationship for migration law purposes? What happens if you stop living together for a period, such as for work, for example, does this affect your ability to meet the definition? De facto is a relatively common term in everyday usage, but its actual meaning for migration law purposes may not match what you understand it to mean. It may also be referred to in other areas of the law, such as for family law purposes, is this the same in migration? And what type and how much evidence do you need to provide to the Department to evidence the existence of your de facto relationship? Here is another example of the complexity that is involved in applying for a visa. Again, one that involves a concept that we all use, but which has a specific legally defined meaning for visa purposes.
There is also so much more to migration law than simply the Migration Act itself. There are regulations, immigration policy, case law and tribunal decisons just to name a few. This is the depth of knowledge required to competently advise clients on migration matters. In some cases, written submissions should accompany an application to add further support to a visa applicant’s claims that they meet the requirements to be granted a visa. But you won’t see this written anywhere. This is the type of extra work that MARA registered migration agents perform to maximise the chances of their client achieving a sucessful outcome on their application. They training and experience equips them to know what areas may require extra attention in an application, for example, and they can anticipate any potential issues head-on, before they become problems.
Another important aspect of migration law is the everchanging landscape that it entails. We often see legislative changes on a weekly basis, such as the fast-changing nature of the industry, as the government responds to changing circumstances in the economy and in the community, as well as to changing policy priorities. Registered migrations agents must keep abreast of the latest developments in migration law as part of their registration requirements.
As discussed above, the importance of engaging someone to assist you with your migration matter who is lawfully permitted to provide immigration advice to you is critical. Getting advice from someone who is not a registered migration agent, legal practitioner or an exempt person poses risks and so should be avoided. Having said that, you may be wondering how to check if a migration agent is registered. Well, the good news is that it is easy! All you need to do is to conduct a search on the OMARA register. Enter their details in the search fields to see if they are registered. This is also a good way to find a MARA registered migration agent who matches your needs (whether that be location, visa type, language spoken, etc). Find the right fit for you.
What A Registered Migration Agent Must Do
A MARA registered migration agent must follow a process to set up your contract and work with you. This includes providing you with documents from the Department and updating you on the progress of your visa application.
Lets now examine the steps that an Australian registered migration agent must take when you engage their services.
Agreement For Services And Fees
Once a MARA registered migration agent has agreed to help you, they will provide you with a contract, which is referred to as an Agreement for Services and Fees.
The contract must detail the following:
- the services the registered migration agent will provide to you;
- how much the registered migration agent will charge for each service or hour (fees);
- the type of visa you are applying for; and
- when and how you need to pay.
It is very important that you read your contract carefully before you agree to it and sign it. Ensure that you keep a copy of your contract that is signed by both you and your agent.
Your registered migration agent should also let you know how you can contact them during normal business hours.
Your contract must include a list of fees that the registered migration agent will charge you, which may include fees for the following:
- to apply for the visa;
- to apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a review of the decision (this is discussed further below);
- medical tests;
- skills assessment;
- interpreters and translations; or
- to cover government charges and taxes.
Your contract will specify when and how you need to pay the registered migration agent for the services as outlined in your agreement.
The registered migration agent must provide you with a copy of the Consumer guide when you have signed the agreement.
The Consumer guide includes:
- a summary of the Code of Conduct;
- what you can expect from your registered migration agent;
- what the OMARA does; and
- how you can make a complaint about a registered migration agent.
Code Of Conduct
Registered migration agents must follow the rules in the Code of Conduct for registered migration agents.
You can ask your agent to provide you with a copy of the Code or a website link to the Code.
How Can You Find A Registered Migration Agent?
Most registered migration agents live and work in Australia. You can search the Register to find one near you.
And how to check if a migration agent is registered? You can easily search the register to find out if a migration agent is registered with OMARA.
If you live overseas, you can choose a MARA registered migration agent who is in Australia. You can communicate with them by email, telephone or video call.
There are Australian registered migration agents working all around the world. You might find it easier to work with a registered migration agent who is near where you live. If you are outside Australia, you can search the Register to check if there are registered migration agents near you.
How Do You Choose A Registered Migration Agent?
You need to ensure that you choose the right person to be your registered migration agent for your own situation.
Each registered migration agent has different skills and you will need to find one that suits your needs. You might want help in your language, or with a visa to work or study. Some registered migration agents specialise in certain visa types. You might want help from an Australian registered migration agent who lives and works in your country.
Steps To Choosing A Registered Migration Agent
Here are the steps to take when selecting a registered migration agent:
Determine What Assistance You Need
An Australian registered migration agent can help you with your immigration needs. This includes:
- giving advice about different visa types and options;
- lodging visa applications; and
- applying to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for reviews of visa decisions.
If you are overseas, a registered migration agent who is located in Australia can still help you, and you can communicate in a number of different ways including by email, telephone and/or video call.
You can also find a registered migration agent who can provide help in a language other than English, or you can use an interpreter.
Search The Register Of Migration Agents
You can find a list of all registered migration agents in Australia by searching the register.
When you search the register, you will see each agent’s name, business name and location. You can also conduct a more specific search based on the type of registered migration agent you want to see.
If you already have a migration agent’s details, the question of how to check if a migration agent is registered is important. You can use the same search function by entering their details to search if they appear on the register.
Ensure the Registered Migration Agent Is The Right One For You
Contact the registered migration agent to discuss their services and ask them about their skills, experience and the languages they speak.
It is important that the registered migration agent has the right skills and experience to be able to assist you with your migration matter.
Check the following with the registered migration agent:
- their experience with the type of visa that you want to apply for;
- the steps they will take to help you;
- their advice on how likely it is you will get a visa; and
- their advice on why they think you are or are not likely to get a visa.
The registered migration agent must provide their advice in writing if you request them to do so.
Also ask the registered migration agent if they speak your preferred language. You can use an interpreter but this may incur a cost.
Discuss Contract Terms And Fees
An Agreement for Services and Fees is an important element of your relationship with a registered migration agent as it sets out the terms and conditions of your contract for the immigration services to be provided, including the costs to be charged. A registered migration agent cannot commence any work for you until you have agreed to, in writing, by returning your signed Agreement for Services and Fees.
You should talk to different registered migration agents about their services and how much they charge before you choose the right registered migration agent for you.
Different registered migration agents will charge different amounts for their services. The amount charged will depend on:
- the type of visa you are applying for;
- the amount of time it will take to prepare your visa application;
- the services you require;
- whether you need extra assistance;
- whether you have a complex case;
- if you have dependents who are applying with you for the visa; and
- the registered migration agent’s experience.
An important point to note is that a registered migration agent’s fees must be fair and reasonable.
Be aware that while most registered migration agents charge for their services, some registered migration agents work for voluntary organisations that provide services for free if you meet certain requirements.
At PAX Migration Australia, we prepare visa applications on behalf of our clients for all visas except protection visas. Our experienced migration agents know how to lodge complete applications that give you the best chance of obtaining your visa without delays.
If you employ foreign workers in Australia, we can take care of your sponsorship and compliance. We can also prepare labour agreement submissions for your business.
A registered migration agent may ask to meet with you in person or by telephone or video call before they give you a contract. This is an initial consultation.
In your initial consultation, the registered migration agent will provide you with information and answer your questions. Some Australian registered migration agents do this for free and others charge a fee. The agents at PAX Migration Australia conduct a detailed migration assessment based on your personal situation. They will discuss with you your individual circumstances, your goals and needs. They will then advise you of your visa options, and clearly explain the requirements, and the process involved in applying for the visa.
Following the initial consultation, you will be provided with an agreement for services and fees. You should carefully read through the agreement and make sure you understand the terms before you sign. Ask any questions that you may have or if you need to clarify anything. Make sure you feel comfortable with the arrangement and raise any concerns that you may have.
The Work Begins
Once you return the signed contract to your agent at PAX Migration Australia, work can commence on your application. You will receive a document checklist to provide information and documents to enable your registered migration agent to prepare your application.
Your registered migration agent will work with you to compile the information and documents needed, upon which they will prepare relevant applications for your case as required (e.g visa application, skills assessment, etc.).
Once you are happy with the application and have approved for it to be lodged, your registered migration agent will proceed to apply on your behalf.
What Happens After Lodgement?
Your registered migration agent will keep you informed of any developments that arise with your case. They will notify you of any requests for further information from the Department and any other notifications received, including the all important decision on the application.
And if the result is not a positive one? Your agent can assist you with an application for a review of the decision. The same applies to a visa cancellation.
How Can We Help With A Visa Refusal Or Cancellation?
PAX Migration Australia can help you here. Most refusals and cancellations carry a right of appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). This is a merits review process (the Tribunal will assess your application independently of the Department). At PAX Migration, we map your appeal prospects in our first meeting and provide a full-service case management right up until a final decision is made by the Tribunal. We will be with you every step of the way.
In assisting you with a review decision, we:
- develop strong arguments;
- ensure that your appeal is lodged in the right way and on time (very critical);
- assist you in obtaining sufficiently credible evidence;
- referral to expert opinion witnesses;
- prepare and lodge written submissions;
- develop a “plan b” (eg. make a new application in parallel); and
- attend the hearing with you and defend your right to a lawful hearing.
We also prepare appeals directly to the Minister personally.
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Australia’s migration laws are complex, and each case is different. We recommend that you seek professional advice if you are interested in applying for a visa in Australia, as being fully informed will give you the best chance of achieving a successful outcome on your case. A migration professional can help you to do this. As we have noted in this article, there are several terms that are defined in the migration provisions. It is vital to have a good understanding of these terms and how they apply in practice, to avoid making a mistake and having your visa application refused. Detailed advice about these is beyond the scope of this article and we would therefore recommend that you seek further information in this regard.
For up to date advice on applying for a visa to Australia, and to join our many happy clients, contact PAX Migration Australia, a leading immigration service providing advice on a range of visas. Contact us for a no obligation discussion on how we may be able to assist you with your migration goals in Australia.
Australian Government – Department of Home Affairs – OMARA – Get help with a visa – Help from registered migration agents – Steps to choose a registered migration agent – After you choose a registered migration agent – What your registered migration agent must do