Protect yourself from unscrupulous advisers

I recently attended the public hearing on the Efficacy of Current Regulation of Australian Migration Agents held in Melbourne on the 23rd of July 2018.As I listened and reflected on the submissions and recommendations presented, I asked myself, how can visa applicants be protected as consumers? I believe the key is providing potential visa applicants and current visa holders information on how they can protect themselves from advisers without moral compass, who do not genuinely care about the application and are just after the applicants’ money. I have listed below three tips on how you can protect yourself from unscrupulous advisers.

(1. Know who you are getting advice from.

There are three groups of advisers that can help you make your Australian dream a reality.

Education Agents
The first group are the Education Agents who have partnerships with Australian education providers who can give advice on which courses to take in Australia and can guide you through the enrolment process. Please note that Education Agents who are not registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA), meaning they are not Registered Migration Agents (RMAs) or Immigration Lawyers either, are not allowed to provide advice and assistance with Australian visas.
Ensure that your Education Agent is authorised to process your enrolment application with your chosen university or TAFE or Registered Training Organisation (RTO). One way of doing this is to check the education providers’ website and look for their authorised agents list. Here’s an example of a university website that enlists its authorised agents:

Registered Migration Agents (RMAs) or Immigration Lawyers
The second group are the MARA registered RMAs or Immigration Lawyers. In Australia, it is illegal to give migration advice and assistance if you are not registered under the MARA. You can check if your adviser is registered with MARA through the link below:
RMAs should adhere to professional and ethical standards set by the MARA, including maintaining up to date knowledge of migration law and procedures and providing an honest and realistic view on the clients’ chance of getting their visas granted.

Unregistered Agents
The third and most dangerous group are the unregistered agents who do not have a licence to give advice or assistance on Australian visa matters and may or may not also have a direct partnership with Australian education providers. This group includes people who recruit students and give migration advice as a business located in or outside Australia (some do this as their part time job/business while they are working in another capacity full time); people who ride on other people’s RMA registration or other company’s education partnerships; people who have done their own visa and they think they are now experts and freely give advice to anyone who asks on social media sites such as Facebook groups.
Using unregistered agents can cost you more time, more money or even shatter your chance of reaching your objective (whether you want to study, work or live in Australia) due to their limited knowledge and skills in migration law or the correct processes in enrolling students. Here’s a link from the MARA regarding the risks of receiving assistance from unregistered persons.
Most of these unregistered agents provide free advice. Free advice costs more especially when the advice given is wrong. I have met experienced Registered Nurses who were sold a Bachelor’s Degree in Community Services (costs at least $20,000 per year for a three year course) when they really should have just taken a Nurse Bridging course (3 month program that costs $14,000 at that time).

(2. Make sure you understand the application process and costs before signing up.

Always ask for an official quote/agreement for the services that you are after. The quote/agreement should clearly list all the costs that you have to pay and the detailed description of each item as well as all the services that will be performed by your service provider. Ensure that the application process that was discussed with you are in writing with an approximate timeline and always get document evidence including receipts for every milestone performed by your adviser.

(3. Be wary of any advice that involves providing fake documents or untrue information or withholding information.

Withholding information or providing fake documents/untrue information can lead to enrolment application refusal or visa refusal or visa cancellation. I have encountered one applicant who was advised not to tell the university she was applying for about her previous US visitor visa refusal. This applicant was initially given a letter of offer from the university and was cancelled at the end as the university found out about her previous visa refusal. This applicant was barred from applying for any course from this university and because of this, her chance of getting into other universities became very slim. In summary, there are dodgy operators out there so you should protect yourself from these people by knowing who you are talking to; understanding your application process and the costs associated with it; and being cautious of people advising you to withhold information or provide fake documents/untrue information.