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Migration agents: What to look for and how to select a migration agent

As an international student, you have likely thought about what your life may look like after you finish your studies. For some, this may include permanently migrating to and settling in Australia. However, migration law is tricky to navigate, particularly when you’re not an expert.

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There are several pitfalls and issues that can arise when trying to coordinate your migration on your own. A single mistake can significantly prolong your visa application process, or even jeopardise the validity of your application altogether. The good news is, many of these mistakes can be avoided with a bit of due diligence and some professional assistance.

Hiring a migration agent is an excellent way to mitigate some of these risks. These registered professionals have the most up-to-date information on current immigration laws and procedures. They use their expertise to guide you through your application, helping to prepare the relevant documentation and representing you at court proceedings if necessary.

Note that sometimes immigration agents are the same as migration agents.

You can find a migration agent by conducting your own online research or by consulting study abroad agencies, many of which have partnerships with migration agents. There are also some incoming changes to current regulations, which will allow you to seek migration advice from traditional law firms, so keep an eye out for updates.

The below guide features expert advice from Sherrie Gaskin, principal consultant at Immigration Australia Visa Support (IAVS), who helps us outline some of the core criteria you should consider – and warning signs to look out for – when selecting a migration agent.

Registration

If you are going to use a migration agent, they must be registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA). Migration agents registered with MARA are the only people who can legally submit and/or process a visa application on your behalf. Sherrie recommends searching for your agent’s name in the Register of Migration Agents to verify that they are registered.

Explore your options

Since a migration agent is going to be handling a lot of your personal information, you want to make sure you’re comfortable with whoever you choose. According to Sherrie, one of the best ways to ensure you find the right migration agent for you is to submit enquiries with a few different agents and see which one you feel most at ease with.

Consulting a few different agents is also a good way to make sure you are being fairly charged. MARA recommends contacting at least three agents to get a sense of how their fees and charges compare to one another.

Success rate

Before you decide on your migration agent, see if you can find online reviews or testimonials from previous clients. If the agent has a great track record of helping people – particularly international students – successfully lodge their visa applications, this is a good sign that they will be able to help you as well.

Responsiveness

Given that visa applications are time-sensitive, it’s extremely important that your migration agent responds to any enquiries you may have in a timely way. So, in your initial correspondence with an agent, pay attention to how quickly they reply to your messages and how thorough their answers are. This could be a sign of how responsive they will be when preparing and submitting your visa documents.

Expect to spend money

Sherrie highlights that international students should not be unwilling to spend money on an initial consultation with a migration agent. Although the initial consult can be quite costly (roughly AU$300), this is a normal and necessary part of the process. This first appointment is a worthwhile investment as it provides a great deal of useful information and helps you understand the application fees, documents required, processing times, and the likelihood of visa approval.

Be mindful of suspicious behaviour

If you have hired a migration agent and they are making promises to you that seem unrealistic or that they haven’t delivered on, this could be a bad sign. For example, according to Sherrie, if a migration agent is charging you excess fees under the promise that your application will be approved, that could be indicative of fraudulent activity. Remember that no migration agent can influence the outcome of an application, fast-track the processing, or guarantee you a visa. “If the student feels like something is not quite right or if the agent is displaying behaviour [that] the student does not feel comfortable with, [they should reconsider proceeding with that agent],” says Sherrie.

Language

If you are not a native English speaker and would feel more comfortable handling your visa application in another language, it’s important that you find a migration agent who speaks that language, or who can arrange an interpreter for you. Legally, a migration agent must give you access to an interpreter if you request one.

Contracts

Following your first meeting, it is standard for a migration agent to provide you with a written contract outlining their fees and services. If they are not readily offering this written agreement, it could be a sign of suspicious behaviour. Be sure to ask for a contract as well as any receipts for payments you make so you have a paper trail of your agreements with the agent.

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