Selecting a migration agent in Australia

If you are thinking about applying for a visa to Australia, there are trained professionals out there who are available to help you through this process. Navigating your way through the myriad of migration provisions is not simple if you are unfamiliar with the immigration system.  The laws are complex and frequently change, especially in recent years, with significant amendments implemented that have affected a great many number of potential applicants.

You need to be across all new developments and stay up-to-date on changing visa rules 

  • You apply for the right visa based on your individual circumstances
  • You formulate a pathway that achieves your goals, and which is based on correct and up-to-date information
  • You lodge a complete and correct application, addressing all visa grant requirements
  • You submit all required supporting documentation in the correct form, and in a timely manner
  • You are aware of your rights and responsibilities, both during the application processing stage, and once a decision is made by the Department

By ensuring that you are fully informed about all the above factors, you will give yourself the best chance of achieving a successful outcome. You are also more likely to save time and money by doing it right the first time. Correcting mistakes later down the track can add further unnecessary complications and can result in more serious implications for you. This could happen, for example, if you need to re-apply for a new visa but by that stage, you no longer meet the age limit for that particular visa class. This will mean you need to re-assess your eligibility for another visa pathway, which may potentially not be available at that stage. A good migration agent will take care of all of this for you. 

In addition, there are many elements that come into play when it comes to assessing your eligibility for a visa and in formulating a visa pathway that is based on your goals, needs and your individual circumstances. It is not simply a matter of reading the information provided on the Department’s website. There are multiple source materials which an expert in the field will consult in the process of advising you on your application (some of which are not publicly available). These include legislation, regulations, policy guidance, review tribunal and court judgements. Professional experience is also an important aspect, providing an individual with knowledge about the ‘ins and outs’ and intricacies of the system and how it works in practice. Migration agents deal with these matters in their day-to-day work and are obligated to keep their knowledge of the migration provisions up-to-date at all times as a condition of their registration approval.

If you decide to engage a professional to assist you with your application, how do you go about selecting the best person to help you?

This is a very important question that you will need to carefully consider. Unfortunately, some migration agents are not properly servicing their clients, resulting in not only dissatisfaction with their service, but with more serious consequences for their client. This could occur, for example, if a client has lodged an application, or formulated a plan for a visa pathway, that is based on incorrect and/or poorly researched advice. Or, if a client has not been fully briefed on their visa conditions and, as a result, have inadvertently failed to comply with their obligations, resulting in serious consequences for their visa status and/or ability to lodge future applications.

With so many migration agents out there who are ready and willing to assist you, how do you know what to look out for? How do you know if a migration agent is the best person for the job?

We are here to help!

There are several factors that you should consider in selecting a migration agent who is right for you. The purpose of this article is to guide you in your decision-making process, by outlining the factors that you should consider when selecting a migration agent. Our aim in this article is to provide you with this information so that you can make the decision that is right for you. Not only to bring you peace of mind and to allow you to feel more confident in what is likely to be a daunting and stressful experience, but also, importantly, to give yourself the best chance of a positive result, based on your individual circumstances.

What is a Registered Migration Agent?

Registered migration agents are skilled professionals in all aspects of migration law and are subject to a number of obligations as a condition of their registration. Their registration and conduct are regulated by the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA), and they are listed on the Register of Migration Agents, which is published on its website https://www.mara.gov.au/

Migration agents must abide by a Code of Conduct. They must stay up-to-date on migration law and procedure and complete Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities. They must also re-apply for registration annually.

We refer you to our article titled ‘Should I use a migration agent or immigration lawyer for my application?’ which will provide you with further information about using a migration agent, how they can help you with your application and the likely benefits of engaging their services:

https://paxmigration.com.au/why-use-a-migration-agent/

How do you choose the Migration agent who is right for you?

There are a number of things to watch out for when selecting a migration agent to assist you with your application. We discuss these below.

Ensure that your migration agent is registered

Registered Migration agents are authorised to provide migration assistance and advice. More specifically, they are permitted to:

  • Advise on visa-related matters (this can include assessing your visa options, advising about your rights and responsibilities as a visa holder, and providing information about the visa application process, including documentary requirements)
  • Prepare or review your visa application
  • Prepare your appeal application (if your visa application has been refused) and represent you at a Tribunal hearing (note that there are restrictions)

A Registered Migration Agent can also assist you with other aspects relating to your visa application (for example, skills assessments, State Sponsorship nominations and police clearances, etc.). 

It is very important that you make sure that you choose a migration agent or an immigration lawyer who is registered with the OMARA. As noted above, registered migration agents are regulated and subject to stringent requirements as a condition of their registration.

You can check whether someone is registered by searching their details on the OMARA’s website

Click on the link titled ‘Search for an agent’ and enter the individual’s details to confirm that they are registered.

If you are unhappy with the service that a registered migration agent provides, and you are unable to resolve it directly with them, you can lodge a complaint with the OMARA and they will investigate your case. This can result in a migration agent being subject to disciplinary action if they are found to have engaged in improper conduct. The OMARA has a range of options available to it in penalising an agent for such conduct. It can issue a caution, suspend or cancel a migration agent’s registration. The OMARA can also bar an agent from registering for a period of up to five years. Therefore, safeguards exist should you experience problems when engaging a migration agent.

Confirm their professional experience

As with all areas of professional practice, having a good amount of experience is always a plus when it comes to selecting a service provider. The same applies to a migration agent. The more experience that a migration agent has in the industry, the greater likelihood that they have seen and been involved in numerous similar applications and in representing clients like yourself, and they thus are more likely to be aware of exactly what to do to give their clients the best chance of a successful result.

Keep in mind, however, that a more experienced migration agent is likely to charge a higher professional fee for their service compared to a more recently registered migration agent. There is a trade-off here: cost versus experience and the decision you make will be a personal one based on your circumstances. But it’s important to be aware that the higher fees reflect the experience that the migration agent has, and you need to consider whether you are prepared to pay more for a potentially better service.

Apart from the OMARA website, you can also check the migration agent’s credentials with a professional association, if they are a member. The Migration Institute of Australia (MIA) is one such professional member organisation, representing Registered Migrations Agents in Australia and overseas. 

How to check if your immigration agent is registered with the Migration Institute of Australia

Click on the title ‘Finding an Agent’ to search for their details. You will be able to view their profile, which provides further information about them, including their contact details, languages they speak, accreditations they hold, and their areas of practice. Note that it is not compulsory for a migration agent to be a member of such a professional organisation, and they may incur a membership fee to join (the MIA, for example, charges migration agents an annual fee). A migration agent who is a member of the MIA, therefore, is likely a good indicator of the individual’s commitment and engagement with the industry.

Checking a migration agent’s areas of practice is another useful guide when selecting an agent. Some migration agents specialise in certain areas of practice only, whereas others work with a wider range of application types. Migration is a very broad area of the law with a multitude of practice areas, including business and investor visas, skilled visas, family and student visas. Some migration agents will focus only on Tribunal reviews. You should make sure that the migration agent whom you select is experienced in the visa type which you are interested in applying for.

If you are thinking about applying for a partner visa, for example, you should check that your proposed migration agent is experienced in this area of practice. Partner visas are highly complicated and are mostly policy and fact based, requiring knowledge of governmental policy and more specific aspects, such as the process for registering a de facto relationship. A migration agent who is more experienced in lodging this type of application is likely to have a more in-depth knowledge about important factors that are specific to this visa class and will know how to present your case to the Department to maximise your chances of a successful result.

Some visa classes require a broader level of skill and experience in addition to migration law, to maximise your chances of achieving the best outcome. As an example, business and investor visas involve a significant amount of accounting and business-related aspects as part of the application process. A migration agent with a wider skill-set, such as one who has a commercial business or accounting background, may be better equipped to assess and prepare a business or investor visa application with the added knowledge, skill and experience that they have in this area.

Another factor to consider is the State or Territory in which a migration agent is located. For some applications, having a more localised knowledge is very important to maximise your chances of a positive outcome for your application. As an example, lodging a partner visa application may involve applying to the relevant State or Territory Government for registration of your relationship. Or, if you apply for a State Sponsored skilled visa, you will need to apply to the relevant State or Territory body for this purpose. A migration agent located in the relevant State or Territory is more likely to be across this information and have experience dealing with previous clients lodging similar applications. It is therefore recommended that you engage a migration agent in your State or Territory when embarking on this process.   

Check reviews and testimonials

Hearing about previous client experiences is another very useful source of information in selecting a migration agent. Clients will often provide reviews of their experience and these can be easily searched on the internet, simply by searching the name of the migration agent or their business name. Google also features a review function for some service providers which you can also check.

You can also look up a migration agent’s website as they will often post client reviews and testimonials. Be aware though that these will most likely only be positive reviews. Its therefore recommended that you also check an independent source, such as performing a Google search, which will list all reviews, whether they are positive or negative. You can search using the individual’s or their business name along with the word ‘review’ or ‘complaint’ for example.

If a migration agent has been subject to disciplinary action by the OMARA, this will be publicly available information. You can check these details on the OMARA website at the following link:

Consider referrals

Following on from the above, previous clients’ personal experiences with a migration agent are a very useful information source when choosing one that is right for you. A personal recommendation from someone you know and trust can be particularly valuable. People are generally honest in providing feedback and learning from their experience is often a great way to source a reputable migration agent.

Even if they cannot offer a recommendation, having been through the application process, individuals who have lodged an application previously may be able to offer you advice and tips for what to look out for when selecting a migration agent, the types of things that they found useful, and any problems they experienced. Such advice can be of a great help to you as you embark on your own journey. Learn from others’ experiences.

Talk to your proposed migration agent and see how you feel on a personal level

Is this person someone whom you feel comfortable with? How do they conduct themselves before you? You should feel at ease and trust your migration agent and it is vital that you make sure you will be able to work and converse comfortably with them during the application process. There is likely to be quite extensive engagement with your migration agent once you start the process, including sharing detailed personal information. Therefore, observing their attitude and interpersonal skills is very important when making your decision about whether they are the right migration agent for you.

Consider also their response times and availability to meet (in person or remotely) and communicate with you (by telephone, email, etc). It is important to engage a migration agent who can dedicate time to you and to your application. How quickly they respond to you at the initial stage can also provide a good indication of how efficient they are as a service provider. The visa application process can often be subject to strict deadlines and failing to adhere to these can have serious consequences for a visa applicant. As an example, your migration agent may need to respond to a Request for Further Information (RFI) from the Department and they must do so by the deadline. Potential serious consequences can arise if they fail to do so (your application could be refused).

If you decide to proceed with engaging a migration agent to assist with your application, under the Code of Conduct, they will be required to respond to you within a reasonable time. Failing to do so will put them in breach of the Code and result in possible implications for their registration with the OMARA.

On a more interpersonal level, is the individual personable? Do they listen carefully to what you have to say and respond to your questions and concerns satisfactorily? When consulting with a migration agent, observe whether they provide detailed responses that answer your questions and that they take the time to thoroughly explain the relevant matters to you. Also watch out for pressure and sales tactics being applied. A reputable migration agent will not pressure you into making a decision – they will present you with the advice and facts as they apply to your case and leave it up to you to decide how to proceed. You should not be given a time-limit for deciding to engage their services. Other tactics can include making things appear more complicated than they are or saying things to alarm you. These are all indications that point to a migration agent who is likely not the best person to assist you. 

A reputable migration agent will also not guarantee you a certain result. Registered Migration Agents are not permitted to promise a certain outcome if you use their service. They cannot declare that they carry special favour with, or are afforded special treatment by, the Department or other organisations/processes related to your application. You will achieve a successful outcome on your application if you meet all of the requirements for visa grant. If you do not satisfy these, your application will be refused, no matter who you engage to assist you.

But what a migration agent can do is make your application stronger. A good and experienced migration agent will know what types of factors will help to get your application across the line, whether that be the documentation that you provide, or formulating and presenting a persuasive argument forwhy you satisfy a visa grant requirement where this is not clear-cut. A migration agent should address all risk factors in the process of advising you on your visa pathway and how they propose to overcome these, and provide appropriate references (for example, referring to the migration provisions, policy and previous experiences with clients in similar circumstances).

When advising you on your options and what is involved in the process, do not be alarmed if a migration agent does not automatically know the answer to a question. As noted above, migration law is a highly complex area and all cases are different. They may need to check by consulting relevant materials before they can advise you confidently. This is a sign of their honesty and is a positive attribute. Provided they come back to you with their findings, that is what is important.

Service fees

A migration agent will normally charge a consultation fee to conduct an initial assessment, which is common in the industry. Providing a migration assessment for a potential client is a time-consuming process, and a migration agent is likely to charge you for their time, especially if they are more experienced. This will often be a fixed fee advised to you before your meeting or before they conduct your assessment. Sometimes the consultation fee will be credited against the service fee (discussed below) should you decide to appoint the migration agent.

In regard to charging a fee for the application itself, this will differ across all migration agents. Each sets their own fee structure, and will be based on a range of factors, such as their experience, the time estimated to provide the service to you, the complexity involved in your case and whether they foresee potential issues arising.

The Code of Conduct requires a migration agent to set a fee which is reasonable in the circumstances of the case. The OMARA publishes fee data on its website to give you an idea of how much you can expect to be charged for a migration agent’s service. This data is collated by the OMARA from the information received from all migration agents applying for re-registration, and is presented as a range for each application type. Migration agents are expected to charge within this threshold range.

You should use this data to check whether a migration agent is overcharging and ask them to justify their reasons for this if they are. It could be that you case is overly complex and involves high risk factors. It is important that a migration agent clearly explains this to you and properly justifies their fees. They should also provide you with an itemised summary of each service they will provide as part of their agreement with you and any disbursements that are likely to be incurred. They must also advise you of all Department application lodgement fees. 

Where to from here?

This article contains a large amount of information regarding the types of factors to look out for as you consider selecting a migration agent to assist you with your application. We recommend that carefully review the above and keep these factors in mind as you consider your options and we hope that this information helps guide you in your decision-making process.

For up to date advice on the visa application process, book your confidential consultation with a migration agent in Adelaide. PAX Migration Australia is a leading immigration advice service based in Adelaide, and we aren’t expensive! Just ask us!