Migrating to Australia is a massive commitment that requires a lot of hard work and an element of risk. In many cases migrants are giving up their family and career in their home country in search of a better life in Australia. A lot of migrants chose to use the services of a Migration Agent to advise them on their options and assist throughout the visa application process. A lot of Migration Agents have the best interests of their clients at heart, however there are a few bad apples that ruin the reputation of the industry.
When choosing a Migration Agent, there are some important things to consider:
1. Is your Agent Registered?
Under Migration Law, Australian based Migration Agents and Migration Lawyers must be registered with the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA), which is an Australian government authority that monitors and regulates agents. Clients are able to make complaints about a Registered Migration Agents to MARA, the complaints are investigated and sometimes Agents are sanctioned if they are in the wrong.
For an Agent to become registered they must have completed a Graduate Certificate in Australian Immigration Law (this will soon change to a Graduate Diploma), meet the English language requirement, and be of good character. Agents pay an annual registration fee and take part in Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses to maintain their registration. This ensures that each Agent has an up to date understanding of Australian Immigration Law.
You can tell if an Agent is registered from their Migration Agent Registration Number (MARN), this is a 7 digit number that must appear on the Agent’s website and any advertisements. You can also check if an agent is registered by visiting the MARA website and searching their name or their MARN: https://www.mara.gov.au
2. Migration Agent Code of Conduct
All Registered Migration Agents are bound by the Migration Agent Code of Conduct. The Code is set out in migration legislation to regulate the conduct of Agents and includes standards of professional conduct, obligations to clients, relations between Agents, fees and charges, record keeping and management, financial duties, duties to employees, complaints, termination or services and client awareness of the code. For anyone planning to use the services of a Registered Migration Agent it’s worth reading the Code of Conduct to ensure your Agent is doing the right thing by you. You can find the Code of Conduct on the MARA website: https://www.mara.gov.au/media/553229/Code_of_Conduct_April_2017.pdf
3. Onshore Agent vs Offshore Agent?
Be wary of offshore Migration Agents based outside of Australia as there is no requirement for them to be registered with MARA. This means that they aren’t required to complete the necessary education and undertake CPD courses to stay updated with migration legislation. They aren’t bound by the Migration Agent Code of Conduct, and they aren’t required to pay registration or indemnity insurance. In some cases offshore agents may have cheaper fees, but the chances of a successful visa application are reduced due to lack of Agent knowledge and accountability. There is also no governing authority to make complaints against an offshore Agent, so therefore you’re on your own.
4. Professional Fees
Migration Agents must provide an estimate of the fees that are likely to be incurred as part of the initial consultation process. Some agents charge for an initial consultation, but many provide this service for free. The professional fees charged by a Migration Agent vary, this is dependent on several factors:
Type of Visa and Client Circumstances
Visas applications can vary greatly. Some applications are relatively straight forward, but many are more complex and therefore take longer to prepare. This can be determined by the type of visa, but can also be determined by the personal circumstances of the client.
In most cases an agent will provide advice, review documents, prepare and submit the visa application, then liase with the Department of Immigration. However, some agents will charge additional fees for extra tasks that are considered out of the ordinary, for example:
- Applying for skills assessments
- Applying for police or health checks
- Applying for bridging visas for travel purposes
- Additional work required when unexpected health or character issues arise
It’s important to read your Agent Agreement to ensure you understand what services are included.
Experience and Reputation of the Agent
Some agents have a lot of experience and have built a reputation over many years of trading. Therefore the agent is able to charge higher fees because clients are willing to pay for their experience and knowledge.
Size of the Firm
When it comes to Migration Firms bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, but you may end up paying higher fees. This is because larger firms have higher overheads and pass these onto the consumer. Some firms are more profit driven, and therefore charge higher fees, but you may be assigned an inexperienced agent within that firm. Some agents work from home and have low overheads, so are therefore able to provide a more personalised service at a lower cost.
MARA have compiled a table of the average fees charged by agents, you can check their website to ensure you’re being charged the right amount: https://www.mara.gov.au/using-an-agent/working-with-your-agent/agent-fees
5. Is Your Agent a Member of the Migration Institute of Australia?
Established in 1992, the Migration Institute of Australia (MIA) is the leading professional association for Registered Migration Agents. Agents must meet strict requirements to join the MIA and to maintain their membership. The MIA supports Agents by providing them with up to date information on legislative changes, weekly newsletters, professional support and networking opportunities. If your Agent is a member of the MIA you can rest assured that they have the support they need to provide you with the service you need. Members of the MIA usually display the MIA logo on their website.
It's important to find an Agent that you’re comfortable with on a personal level as they will be required to have a very intimate understanding of your circumstances. In some cases you will be dealing with your Agent over the course of a number of years, so having a good relationship with them is important. An Agent will ask you to be honest with them and this is important because hiding certain facts could be detrimental to your visa application. If an Agent is fully aware of all the facts from the outset, there’s sometimes action they can take to help improve your chances of success.
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