Everything you need to know about Australian Registered Migration Agents

registered migration agents

Written by Julie Williams | MARN 9903637 | Published 1 July 2024

The most important thing to keep in mind is that anything related to a visa including company sponsorship and nomination applications is all subject to legal criteria under the Migration Act 1959, Migration Regulations 1994, and discretionary Departmental policy.

Do I need to use a registered migration agent?

The short answer is no, you are able to lodge any kind of visa application yourself and most applications can be lodged online.

However, the law is complex and you can put your application at unnecessary risk if you are not really sure what you are doing.

The old days of filling in forms and paying fees are well and truly over. A competent migration agent reviews migration legislation and policy before going anywhere near a form.

The Department of Immigration’s website is not law. Although it is very informative, It is not there to assist you in any great detail except to provide general guidance. The specifics of the legislation, the distinction between ‘and’, ‘or’, and the technicalities of interpreting complex and ambiguously written legislation is something that even Australian High Court judges comment on.

To put it simply, an agent can do the following:

  • Foresee and advise on risk and chances of success
  • Advise clients of all present and future problems that a visa applicant might not even know exist
  • Comment on changes beyond the law
  • Provide migration strategies and alternative solutions that will save you money in the long run
  • Ensure evidence meets legal criteria

Migration Agents are specialised in immigration law and work every day with it. An experienced agent is aware of politics around, courts and Tribunals.

How to choose a reputable Registered Migration Agent?

Every year we meet with new clients to learn of the difficulties that some prospective migrants face trying to choose a reputable migration agent.

We come across some stories where the wrong advice or poorly researched advice lands the prospective migrant without other visa options or problems with visa compliance because they haven’t been made aware of their visa conditions or limitations according to law.

Ask yourself – do I feel that the agent is working in my best interest or are they simply making quick money with false promises and unanswered questions?

If your agent doesn’t have all the answers on the spot, listen out for whether they will ‘check the regulations’ to confirm their answer.

What is the Difference Between a Migration Agent or Migration Lawyer?

Immigration law is an extremely complicated area and Lawyers don’t necessarily have a deeper understanding as Lawyers, in Australia, do not study ‘Migration Law’ as part of their Law Degree.

Migration Agents have specifically spent a year on an intensive Diploma qualification specifically on the area of Australian immigration law and must meet professional standard.

Using a Lawyer for visa applications will not influence the outcome of applications or speed up the process.

Migration Agents and Lawyers can represent you on all legal advice relating to areas of immigration law for your visa application, citizenship application and represent you at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Target driven Migration Agents/Sales Teams/ Corporates

There is no pressure into signing up with a particular company or agent unless you feel sure they will perform for you. There are businesses out there that use sales personnel to sign you up for a commission.

Ask yourself whether you are purchasing a ‘product’ or a ‘service’. Ideally, you will be paying for a professional legal service.

We’ve heard of cases where clients did not even legally qualify for a visa at the time, they were pressured to enter an agreement and pay the fees. There is a big difference between applying for a visa and meeting the criteria for grant of a visa.

If a prospective visa applicant doesn’t qualify for a visa at the time the agreement is presented, there are no grounds for entering into a contract. It’s that simple.

Migration Agents operating in Australia must be registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA). Registered Migration Agents operating in Australia are strictly governed by law but advisors outside Australia are not subject to the same strict code of conduct.

Misleading Immigration Information

Often it is hard to tell whether the information an agent shares with you is correct or as accurate as possible according to the particular scenario in front of them. If it sounds too good to be true, we recommend that you obtain a second opinion.

Sometimes what is required by law is slightly different from the Department’s policy. Good agents will provide a balanced opinion on what the requirements are in law, how the Department’s policy is interpreting the law, and what is possible in practice.

Immigration legislation is coupled with a complex set of Immigration policy set by the changing mood of the government. It is often well known that the legislation and/or policy changes at least every 3 months. Good agents are well informed, well read, well networked. They understand the changes and the reasons behind the changes. What used to be possible as little as three months ago may now be a very complex area to negotiate.

There are agents out there who will give misleading or inaccurate advice for numerous reasons.

Here are a few examples:

  • Inexperience – new or ‘green’ agents sometimes make up an answer when they don’t have experience in that immigration area, just to look more professional. The number of ‘green’ agents that constantly contact us through our mentoring program, looking for an experienced response to a question they don’t understand is really concerning; especially when they ask that question over and again.
  • Over complication – complicating things can lead to the client feeling vulnerable and may, therefore, entice them to sign up with that particular agent when in fact they have limited experience.
  • 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 keep in mind that an agent willing to research your case is probably the agent who will get you over the line.

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 5 years of practical experience in the industry.

In many cases, the more experience an agent has, the more they are likely to charge. Look at their referrals from say Google and their industry standing. A highly trained ‘Fellow’ of the Migration Institute (MIA) will ultimately be more expensive than a newbie, but it may save you money, in the long run, knowing they have the answers for your particular case.

Australian immigration laws and requirements are updated frequently. Experienced agents generally have a better grasp of what the legal requirements are and how to interpret them favourably.

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 the immigration caseworker will look for in your application. Generally speaking, an inexperienced agent will not, which may result in a longer turnaround.

Use Client Feedback

The way the internet and web work 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 highly recommended if you are looking for a reputable agent. Fortunately, finding reviews is fairly straightforward and we highly recommend that you complete some internet/background research on your agent.

The first place to look is on the company or agent’s website. Most companies have testimonials or a reviews section on their site.

Make sure your Australian agent is registered.

Another way of referencing a company’s business history is by checking with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA) or our professional association the Migration Institute of Australia.

And last, but not least, have you tried searching Google? If 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.

In addition to paying an annual registration fee, registered migration agents must take part in continuing professional development (CPD) courses. These courses ensure they are absolutely up to date with the latest information and law that will ultimately affect how they handle your visa application. A good agency will continually train and send their RMA’s (Registered Migration Agents) to CPD courses to enhance their knowledge of immigration rules and regulations so they are completely up to date.

How do I know if a migration agent is actively registered?

Simply look up the agent on the OMARA or IAA website using their agent finder app.

An OMARA and IAA registration is valid for one year only. Once you’ve found an agent, it’s just a matter of verifying the most recent registration. The first two numbers of their OMARA registration is the date they were first registered and gives you an idea of their seniority and years of experience.

UNREGISTERED ADVISORS OPERATING OUTSIDE AUSTRALIA AREN’T REGULATED; THERE IS NO POWER TO PROSECUTE THEM. THEY CANNOT BE REPORTED TO ANYBODY FOR DOING THE WRONG THING AND AS A CONSUMER YOU HAVE NO ENFORCEABLE RIGHTS AGAINST UNREGISTERED ADVISORS.

Agency Fees

Migration agency fees vary quite drastically but there are a few things you should keep in mind before making your decision. Most immigration agencies will provide you with a clear fee structure, so you know what you are paying for.

Fees for Registered Migration Agents can vary due to differences in:

  • Expertise – specialists with expertise in difficult cases and applications will often charge more than a non-specialist.
  • Seniority – work carried out by a senior, highly skilled partner of a firm will cost more than work done by a junior migration agent
  • Location – services in metropolitan areas are often higher than in rural or regional areas
  • Urgency – special fees sometimes apply for urgent work.

When Comparing the legal fees from a number of different Registered Migration Agents it is vital as with any other service, to ensure they can deliver the result you want. The lowest cost may not necessarily be the best value or get you a visa in a timely manner.

Moreover, this is not the type of service you can shop around and compare as similar products’, always look at what their real customers say about their professionalism.

Expertise and Knowledge are intangible and hard to be compared, but the results and their client references will always speak for themselves. Therefore they won’t have similar prices.

Things you should take into account:

  • Consultation charges
    It is a requirement by our Code of Conduct to have a consultation for any immigration advice provided and therefore it is only fair that a fee should be charged, much the same for any other professional services. Most experienced and reputable companies will charge a consultation fee in the range of $385-$550 for a one-hour consultation.
  • Services Offered
    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. A properly prepared and presented case will ensure you get a fair hearing with the Department of Immigration and the best chances of success. Common tasks include:
  • Providing detailed instructions
  • Completing research on all the relevant regulations pertaining to a particular application
  • Reviewing documents and providing feedback on any issues
  • Continually providing feedback and advice throughout the application process
  • Preparing and submitting the visa application
  • Liaising with case-workers
  • Responding to emails and telephone calls
  • Company Size/ Structure
    Bigger isn’t always better however you have to ask yourself wht happens if my agent goes on holiday, how my information is secured,..

Response Times

The OMARA and IAA Code of Conduct stipulates that migration agents are obliged to respond to clients in a timely and efficient manner.

During the enquiry and consultation stage you aren’t technically a client for a visa yet, so try to use this time to gauge the responsiveness of your chosen migration agent.

How frustrating is it when you want to get on with your visa application, but you find yourself having to wait for your agent to get back to you.

Contact the agent directly (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 it’s difficult to speak with them now prior to signing up it is likely their response times will not improve.

General Attitude/ Interpersonal Skills

Unfortunately, it can take quite a few months for your visa application to be processed by the Department of Immigration. The preparation and presentation of your case is extremely important and during that time you should feel comfortable with the person you have appointed as your migration agent. Remember you really only have one chance and there is NO room for error. If anything, good agents work with the attitude that everything must be correct 150% of the time.

It makes a huge difference when you work alongside somebody who actually cares about your situation and your individual circumstances.

Migrating to Australia or New Zealand is difficult and the Departments of Immigration certainly don’t make it easy to get a visa. Working with an agent and/or company who don’t have your priorities aligned with theirs will just make the task a lot harder. Read their reviews (real ones like Google+, WOMO etc) to see what their actual clients say about them and their services.

It is difficult to judge what you’ll be faced with as you progress through your visa process, so trust your gut feeling. If it doesn’t feel right at the start, then keep looking until you find an agent or company you feel comfortable with.

Before any immigration advice can be provided, we must hold an initial consultation which will attract a fee of $385.

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