During my 30 years as a visa officer, my relatives and prospective immigrant friends have repeatedly asked me the question on how to choose an immigration consultant. I once gave them the following advice and I believe it is even more applicable today given that there is a growing number of unscrupulous individuals advertising on the internet. Here are some suggestions:
1. Do not engage unlicensed consultants or consultants who are unable to clearly prove their qualifications.
In other words, check to make sure that the agent is registered and that the consulting firm has a license to operate as an immigration agent locally. If you are intending to immigrate to Australia, your agent should have a license to operate in Australia.
Unauthorized and unregistered agents are not regulated by professional immigration authorities of their countries and therefore the quality of their work is not subject to scrutiny.
2. Enquire about their relevant experience. Many immigration agents hold other relevant professional experience, such as – accounting, law, notarization, or work experience with the Department of Immigration or other related law enforcement agencies. This experience may offer added value to your overall application.
Applying for immigration is a complex process. You should choose someone who not only submits your application, but is also qualified to provide you with proper guidance to maximize your chances of success.
3. Meet with immigration agents or their representatives in person. Most consultants charge a small initial consultation fee. Other consultants may offer a brief free session to review your credentials or situation.
Immigration is an important life-changing decision, perhaps the most important decision in your or your loved one’s life. In my career as a visa officer, I had seen many poorly prepared submissions and in many cases the applicants did not have a clear understanding of the immigration process; this often leads to a final negative decision. It is important that whoever advises you should be aware that this is an important decision in your life.
When you meet with a consultant or agent, you should tell them your credentials and ask about your chances of success, including the application process and other issues that may arise. This meeting will give you a better understanding of the agent and how they operate.
4. You want to make sure that the consultant will keep you informed of the application process on a regular basis.
Surprisingly, many applicants actually have never met their agents even after the submission of application. While in some cases this may be justified because of deadline or other regencies. In most cases it was simply a lack of understanding of the applicants. Some applicants have waited for many years for their applications to be processed by Immigration department (which is not the fault of the agents) but they have never received a letter from their agent. In some cases, their advisers have retired, died or left the industry, and applicants have not even been interviewed by immigration officials.
You should ask the consultant if you are able to contact them directly and how the consultant will track the progress of the case.
5. Ask about immigration counselling services, including any additional costs. However, consultant fees alone should not be your sole determining factor.
I remember having a conversation with some doctor friends a few years ago when we discussed about medical charges and professional fees. My cardiologist friend told me that a heart patient who cares about his own life would never deliberately choose the cheapest heart surgeon to carry out the surgery. I think his comments make a lot of sense.
However, it is not uncommon that some immigrant clients shop around for the lowest-fee consultant. A few years ago, a woman hired a local consultant to advise her and submit her spouse’s immigration application. She was very eager to be with her foreign husband. She paid a small fee. According to her it was the cheapest she could find in her country at that time. In the end, her application was rejected; because the visa officer did not believe she had provided sufficient documentation to prove that it was a real spousal relationship. Two years later, with the help of another consultant, she resubmitted her application. By then this woman and her husband had wasted two years of their time.
6. Some numbers are not always true. Do not be misled by advertisements that make false or misleading claims, for example, “100% approved”. You will not have the opportunity to confirm the accuracy of these numbers.
I recently saw an advertisement in which the company claimed that 98% of its skilled immigrant applicants had passed a skills assessment. First, passing a skills assessment does not mean that a permanent residence visa is approved. These are two separate issues. Second, most genuine skilled migrants should have no problem getting skills assessment approved unless their work experience is not consistent with the Australian standards. Third, as a customer, you will never have the opportunity to prove or disprove the accuracy of these numbers. As a result, some unethical consultants use attention-grabbing numbers to allure customers. Unfortunately, many prospective applicants who engaged these consultants would end up being the “2%” that did not make it.
7. Find a consultant who will act in your best interest. The Registered Migration Agents Authority requires that its licensed consultants act in the client’s best interest. In other words, we will act in your best interest and set aside personal motive or conflicts of interest in favour of pursuing the best outcome for your case. Getting paid by you when your application is approved is NOT a good enough reason to act in your interest. This is about ethics and credibility. Do not engage anyone whom you do not believe he or she will act in your best interest.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please send us an email and we will try our best to answer your questions.