Everyone says I’m a pretty easy-going person most of the time.
But something has made me Mad as Hell lately. And it’s all to do with my clients.
Yes that’s right. Clients. The people who put bread on my kids’ table. The people that I spend every waking moment thinking about, helping and supporting. My favourite people…who usually put a smile on my face and give me a sense of satisfaction, at the end of each day, that I’ve helped to change someone’s life for the better.
But not at the moment.
You see, just lately I’ve had a run of new clients – decent, honest British people – who, before meeting me, had engaged the services of certain unregistered offshore “Migration Agents” to help them achieve their dream of a life “Down Under”.
Dodgy Dodgy Dodgy.
I use the term “Migration Agent” in italics, because some of these service providers are not migration agents. Instead, they are very slick and smart salespeople who offer the promise of hope of making Australia your home. They know that you have your heart set on feeling the sand between your toes, and waking to the sound of Kookaburras every morning. (Note: While the Kookaburra alarm clock may sound romantic, believe me, you will soon get over it when they decide to have a party at 4 am in Summer, in your backyard trees, and you have had too many wines the night before….)
They know you are chasing the Dream.
The “Migration Agents”, that is. Not the Kookaburras. (The Kookaburras have no idea.)
And these “Migration Agents” know how deeply you are in love with the dream; and that you’ll willingly part with cash, in the hope that you’ll find the Holy Grail called Australian Permanent Residency.
Sometimes they don’t actually seem to have much idea about whether, or how, you can achieve that goal. (That’s pretty clear, from the stories I hear from my clients). Wishy washy promises; nothing in writing; wads of cash gone in deposits that appear to be untracked and un-refundable, when performance is not demonstrated.
To be fair, the ones I’ve seen, don’t actually promise anything in writing – so it could be argued that “performance” is not something that you can actually accuse them of not delivering …but you will only become aware of that in retrospect.
After some time has passed, you will realise that they have parted with a lot of money.
But nothing has actually happened.
When you finally track down the agent and ask the question “What’s happening with my Visa?” – the answers range from complete silence; to verbal diarrhoea – lots of words that don’t actually say anything – ; to nasty threats of legal action for daring to ask …..
And there it ends.
When it comes to migration to Australia, the problem is that, for most people, the clock is the enemy. As you get older, your “attractiveness” to the country declines. You have less years of working life in you; so Australia penalises you by dropping skilled migration points at age 33; 40 and 45. Hit 50 and it’s nigh on impossible for most people to become a permanent resident – except for those lucky few who earn extraordinarily high salaries, and those lucky enough to have most of their children here AND the funds to pay for a parent visa.
So, you really can’t afford to spend years mucking around with an “agent” who does not really provide you with clarity and actions, but drains your finances. You need good advice, straight up.
My clients – good, honest people who deserve far better – have lost money, time, emotional energy and faith. Yet, they still pursue the dream, and, having heard about their experiences, I’m even more determined on their behalf to help them get there – now that they are Emergico clients.
So while I’m Mad as Hell, it’s because of the way these folks have been treated by people who shamelessly call themselves Migration Agents, and give my profession a bad name.
In the interests of a happy and prosperous future for everyone, here’s my three Top Tips for people who have a dream to move Down Under.
1. Get Proper Advice Before you Do Anything. And only take advice from a Registered Migration Agent!
The only sort of person you should trust to advise you is a MARA-registered Migration Agent. That is, an Australian citizen or permanent resident, who is registered by the Australian government, to provide Migration advice. These people are properly educated (they must have either a Graduate Certificate in Migration Law; or a Law Degree); they have passed character and integrity checks, and they must adhere to a very strict Code of Conduct in their behaviour. Plus, they undertake mandatory professional development and have to renew their registration by jumping through hoops with the regulator every 12 months.
How do you know if a person who claims to be a Migration Agent is MARA registered?
They are obliged, by law, to quote their MARN (Migration Agent Registration Number – a seven digit number) in any advertising or correspondence. The first two numbers indicate the year in which the person first became registered – which can give you some idea of their experience level. If you’re looking at a Migration Agent’s website and the MARN is not obvious – beware. You should also look them up on the government website – go to www.mara.gov.au – select “Find an Agent” and check that the agent is currently registered. Even practicing lawyers need to be registered with MARA to provide migration advice.
Lots of people look to online forums for advice, rather than professionals. While this can be useful in terms of understanding the bigger picture, the experiences of others is not going to necessarily relate to your situation – as everything changes over time.
Ok – so in some cases, the professional advice you get might not be what you want to hear. Perhaps your occupation isn’t on the Skilled or Sponsored List. Perhaps you are too old to get a permanent visa. Maybe a past criminal record might cause a problem.
But wouldn’t you rather know this BEFORE you commit a lot of money and emotional energy into pursuit of the dream??
2. Be clear about what you are getting, when you engage an Agent.
A MARA agent has certain obligations under the Code of Conduct. One of these, is to be realistic with a client about their chances of success with a visa. A MARA agent should not advise or encourage you to submit an application if the chances of success are not high. And everything needs to be in writing. Make sure that the Engagement Letter that you sign when enlisting the agent, very clearly states exactly what the agent is going to do for you; and the associated costs, including third party charges. Most agents will quote a fixed price for a visa service, however some will quote on an hourly rate – in which case they must give you an estimate of the hours required for the service.
Check where your money goes.
A MARA agent must hold your funds paid in advance in a separate bank account, called a Client’s Account. That means the funds are still yours until the agent either earns them by doing work and invoicing for the work; or pays a third party on your behalf. So, if for some reason you terminate their services before completion; the agent must refund you any unused portion of your funds.
The benefit of MARA registration is the client protection that it affords. If a MARA agent does not act in accordance with the Code of Conduct, you can complain to the regulator – and the agent can be sanctioned or even banned from practicing migration law.
None of the above points are applicable to offshore agents. The MARA is powerless to regulate people from providing advice outside Australia. So, if you are using an unregistered agent and it all goes pear shaped, you might struggle to get your money back.
3. Hold your Migration Agent to account.
A decent Agent will communicate well with you. They will keep you up to date, will give you clear instructions as to what you must provide, will ask you to proof read applications before lodging; and will provide you with evidence that applications have been lodged. You’ll know every time money is spent on your behalf. They will let you know when they can and can’t follow up on the progress of applications. And, they will notify you as soon as there is some movement on your case.
Don’t be afraid to ask your agent for updates. Every good agent keeps filenotes and records, and should be able to tell you about the last update on your case.
But understand and accept that an agent can’t harass the Department of Immigration and Border Protection on your behalf for routine updates if your case is within standard processing times. The agent will know what’s acceptable – and how to expedite things if an emergency arises.
Above all, make sure you hold your agent to account, for the things that they can control – which includes their honesty, professionalism, technical knowledge; communication skills, and compliance with the Code of Conduct.
If you’re not happy – raise your concerns with the agent first, and give them the chance to fix things up, before going further.
Finally – Not Everyone is Bad!
There are many people who work outside Australia giving migration advice, who are not registered migration agents. Not all of them are bad – some are very good! But check carefully, before parting with cash – and get some word of mouth recommendations from trusted sources. If you want the protection of a regulator, and want a guarantee that the person you are paying to help can be held accountable – go for an RMA, every time.
For expert, professional Migration Advice, contact Emergico Migration. We proudly service clients from all around the world. And 100% of our Agents are registered with MARA.