The alarming truth about unregistered 'migration agents'

Faceless Man in dark shadows

In Australia, only a Registered Migration Agent is legally able to provide immigration assistance. Despite this, a large number of unregistered agents operate in and outside of Australia, illegally giving immigration assistance and advice to unsuspecting applicants. Find out what the dangers are in using an unregistered agent and how to tell if an agent is unregistered.

There are potential risks in using the services of an unregistered ‘migration agent’ to prepare and lodge your visa application. Unregistered agents operate outside the authority that regulates the work of migration agents. Consumers who use unregistered agents are at risk of being provided with incorrect or misleading advice, and could potentially be charged for services that are unsatisfactory.

The same protection is not afforded to consumers as they would be if they were to engage the services of a Registered Migration Agent. For the average person, it can be hard to tell the difference between a registered migration agent and an unregistered migration agent. Here are five signs that your migration agent is unregistered:

1. They do not display a registration number on their business card or on any other marketing material

If the agent does not display a Migration Agent Registration Number (MARN) on their business card, website or any other marketing material, there is a good chance that they are not registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA). Under the Migration Act 1958, it is illegal to provide immigration assistance, if you are not registered with OMARA. A Registered Migration Agent is required to comply with a Code of Conduct, have professional indemnity insurance and maintain up-to-date knowledge of Australia’s immigration laws and procedures. Consumers are protected when they use the services of a Registered Migration Agent.  

2. They do not display the Code of Conduct anywhere on their website or in their office

Registered Migration Agents are bound by the Code of Conduct which by legislation, regulates their conduct and prescribes their obligations towards their clients. One of the obligations under the Code of Conduct is that a Registered Migration Agent must display the Code in their office, client waiting area or have a link to it on their website. They must also provide a copy of it if requested by a client. If the person providing you immigration assistance does not provide one to you upon request or does not display it prominently in their office premises, they are likely to be an unregistered agent. Unregistered agents are not bound by the Code of Conduct and are therefore not obliged to keep proper records, give you accurate advice or inform you of the visa outcome.

3. They do not provide you with a service agreement or contract

Another sign that your agent is unregistered, is if they do not provide you with a copy of their service agreement or contract. As the case with most professional services, a contract outlines the fees and services to be provided by the service provider as well as the relevant terms and conditions. Registered Migration Agents must provide a service agreement to their clients. They can only accept payment and commence their work on behalf of a client, once the service agreement is signed by all relevant parties. The service agreement also provides the client with documentary evidence in the event of a dispute over services provided or fees charged.

4. The ‘agent’ only accepts cash payments and does not provide a receipt

An agent who only accepts payment in the form of cash and does not provide a receipt, is potentially an unregistered migration agent. This may be a sign that the person who is claiming to be an agent, is improperly managing your money and failing to keep financial records. This is very risky as there is no paper trail or evidence of payments made. It makes it very difficult to recover any money from unregistered agents who operate in this manner. Registered Migration Agents must manage your money in a separate account until their services are provided and keep receipts for any payments from clients as prescribed in the Code of Conduct. Their accounts are be audited from time to time.

5. They guarantee that your visa will be approved and charge a very high fee for their services

Any person charging extremely high fees in return for promises of a visa is likely to be running an unregistered practice. There have been countless stories of people who have paid tens of thousands of dollars for guarantees of a visa, only to find out later that their visa application was never lodged in the first place and they were the victim of a migration scam. No one can guarantee a visa as the outcome of a visa application is decided by authorised case officers at the Department of Home Affairs. Conversely, Registered Migration Agents must provide honest and sincere advice to clients about their prospects of success prior to preparing their visa application. The Code of Conduct also compels Registered Migration Agents to charge fees that are reasonable based on the circumstances of the client’s case.

If you want to avoid the risks of dealing with an unregistered agent and would like immigration assistance from a Registered Migration Agent, contact Titan Migration on +61 404 010 815 or at info@titanmigration.com.au. We are registered with OMARA and are bound by the Code of Conduct.