Can You Trust Your Migration Agent - Proudly South African In Perth

Can You Trust Your Migration Agent?

I’m hearing so many stories lately of families who have used migration agents that have turned out to be not as reputable as they were led to believe, or who have completely messed up a visa application. I wanted to write a blog about why you need to find a reputable migration agent, to try and save some of you from going through the same thing. 

These days there are so many people wanting to move to Australia – not just South Africans, but there are plenty of us who are in the process of making the move, or deciding if they can move. I get heaps of emails every week asking me where they can start the process, what it involves and some asking for personal advice. 

I’m not a migration agent, I’m not MARA registered, so I cannot give advice to anyone. My blogs are written to give you practical and emotional information to equip you with the skills and resilience to make the move to Australia and survive. If people ask me for advice, I refer them onto migration agents that will be able to answer their questions about their individual circumstances. 

A few months ago I heard about a family who is facing ministerial intervention as their very last resort to try to remain in Australia. All because their visa applications were not thoroughly done by a migration agent. 

This family have lived in Australia for almost a decade but due to circumstances beyond their control, they were never able to apply for PR until recently. But when they did, their world fell apart. Here is their story.

Jane’s Story

Jane* and her family moved to Australia in 2011. They lived in Pretoria, where they were the victim of 2 attempted hi-jackings. Like many others, they made the difficult decision to pack up and move to Australia.

They came over on a student visa at first and Jane studied for her Masters in Orthotics and Prosthetics. After a year, they were struggling to survive on one salary so Jane deferred her studies and began work on a 457 visa, which was at the time valid for 2 years.

The employer proved to be quite shady (not paying salaries on time and not paying super contributions) so she ended up leaving after one year and getting another 457 visa through a new employer. This time the 457 visa was a 4 year one.

2 months before they were eligible to apply for PR, Jane was let go. The family had 90 days to find a new sponsor and were running out of time. Luckily she found a new sponsor who was willing to take her visa over.

However, the new employer didn’t want her to start work for a couple of months. Despite asking to start as soon as possible, they wouldn’t agree. The new nomination and visa was approved end November 2014 but Jane only started working January 2015.

Unexpected Consequences

The result of this seemingly inconsequential decision, was that she would end up being 4 weeks short of the 2 years employment requirement in order to be eligible to apply for PR. They went onto a Bridging Visa A at this point while they were between 457 visas.

It was at this point they contacted a MARA registered migration agent to help them resolve the situation and make sure their visa applications went in correctly.

The agent sent in the application for the 457 with the new sponsor, so that the family would get the extra 4 weeks they needed in order to apply for PR. They also advised that they could apply for PR as soon as the 2 years requirement is reached, and when it came through, they could withdraw the 457 visa application and get their money back.

This was apparently the first mistake. Jane later discovered that, in order to apply for the 186 PR visa, they needed to already hold a valid (approved) 457 visa. Which they didn’t.

Immigration asked for more information on the 457 nomination and visa application, and the agent did not upload any supporting documents, other than passports and driver licences. By failing to provide even the minimum required supporting documents, the agent delayed the assessment of the application, ultimately contributing to the application becoming untenable once Jane’s nominated occupation was removed from the relevant occupation list in April 2017.

Impact Of Changes To The Skills List

In April 2017, Jane’s occupation was removed from the skills list and the age requirement decreased from 50 to 45 years. Jane and her employer checked with the agent if this would impact their PR application and was told it would not affect it.

The 457 nomination was withdrawn in May 2017 and the visa application early June 2017. Thirty-five days after withdrawing her subclass 457 visa application, Jane’s Bridging Visa A ceased and her Bridging Visa C associated with her application for subclass 186 visa came into effect.

Then in June, the 186 visa nomination application was declined. It was declined because the agent failed to provide documents in support of the nomination application to the Department for over five months after it was lodged, and because the family did not have a valid 457 in place – they were now on a Bridging Visa C.

Failure To Communicate

The agent took more than 2 weeks to tell the family that their visa nomination application had been declined. It was then they found out the agent had decided to lodge a new nomination without telling them. The agent also said that the visa was refused because sometimes immigration makes harsh decisions – there was no mention of there being no valid 457 in place or the fact they didn’t upload requested documents.

By the agent lodging a new nomination, it denied the family the right to appeal the initial decision.

The agent then advised they would get the visa application linked to this new nomination. Jane later discovered that this is not possible. The agent said it was a new regulation but this turned out to be inaccurate.

The agent finally advised they would need to lodge a new visa application (and withdraw the first 186 visa application as to not have a refusal) This meant another $9000 for a new visa application – the second such fee in 6 months.

A Second Refusal

Yet again the nomination was refused because there was no valid 457 visa in place. It was at this point Jane says she believed the agent was now outright lying to them. The agent advised there was nothing more to be done (they allegedly contacted three other migration lawyers to confirm this) and the family would need to return to South Africa. They then stopped communicating with Jane completely.

Jane and her family knew there was no way they could go back to South Africa. They had given up their lives there almost a decade before. They had spent all their savings on visa application after visa application. There was nothing to go back to.

They decided to fight to try and stay in Australia. They found a new migration agent who is also a lawyer. The lawyer discovered the errors made throughout their applications and deemed they had grounds for Ministerial Intervention.

Still In Limbo

They are now on a Bridging Visa C with work rights and will apply for a Bridging Visa E once the Bridging Visa C expires in April 2018 in order to remain lawful in Australia. This is a visa which is very restrictive and only allows you to remain in Australia until a decision is made through Ministerial Intervention. Sometimes, you aren’t allowed to work either.

If the Ministerial Intervention fails, Jane and her family will have 35 days to pack up their lives and leave the country.

Their lives have been on hold for over a year now. Jane’s children are finding it impossible to find better employment because of their visa status – who’s going to employ someone who could be deported at any time? Her husband is supposed to travel overseas for his work but has been unable to do so on their Bridging Visa C. Jane was also not able to attend her mother’s funeral in July due to the travel restriction.

How Can You Stop This Happening To You?

Jane wants people to take note of what’s happened to them and prevent this from happening to anyone else. In hindsight, her biggest piece of advice is to not rely on what your agent tells you but make your own enquiries too. If you call Immigration yourself, they can give you up to date advice on the latest rules and any changes that may affect your application.

Also, research your migration agent. Don’t just trust what other people say as to whether someone is reputable or not. Do your research, find past clients and speak to them. Google is a wonderful resource too – Google the shit out of people before you hand over your hard-earned cash!

 

Unfortunately, Jane’s story is not a lone one. I’ve spoken to more people than I care to remember about rogue migration agents – some of them MARA registered too, so don’t assume that makes all the difference. 

Recently, I read about one agent who took people’s money and never even bothered applying for visas for them. Another took money from one family and used it to pay for another family’s visa application. 

So how can you trust your migration agent?

If you want to check the status of a MARA registered agent, head to the MARA website and search through disciplinary decisions. Remember that people barred from MARA are still allowed to practice outside Australia, so if you’re using an agent who is not onshore, do yourself a favour and check them out here, just in case. 

Please also note that the 457 visas have changed completely and were replaced by a new temporary visa class in March 2018. 

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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