DON’T Hire a Migration Agent – Part 2

The overall feedback received for my previous LinkedIN article has been positive. However, there were a few Migration Agents who did not welcome my point of view. These individuals felt my observation was a direct attack on the competence and ability of Migration Agents with less than 5 years of experience.

I apologise to any of my colleagues who feel this way, but I made no such statement. On the contrary, I have said –

  • It is important that you choose the right Migration Agent who has ‘sufficient industry experience’, and
  • Migration Agents are highly qualified skilled professionals. I know quite a few Migration Agents of various levels of experience, and with different interests, capabilities and areas of expertise.

I have collectively referred to all Migration Agents as highly skilled professionals. In making this statement, I have made no distinction between Junior and Senior Registered Migration Agents. Junior Migration Agents have not been excluded from this statement.

My previous article starts with an analogy of a real-life story about a visa hopeful I met with for an initial consult. The purpose of this analogy was to highlight the fact that our clients, who trust their lives with our guidance and professional support are highly susceptible to uninformed decisions. They see their ‘Australian dream’ waiting for them at the end of the tunnel without knowing whether they will encounter any obstacles along their journey. I am hopeful that by the time you finish reading this article, you will have a better understanding of this analogies purpose.

I’ve estimated that approximately 65 percent of the Migration Profession is comprised of Migration Agents with less than 5 years of practice experience. The method used to calculate this estimate was discussed in my previous article.

I was not far off in my assessment. The OMARA’s most recent Migration Agent Activity Report for 1 July to 31 December 2018 states that at 31 December 2018, of the 7317 registered migration agents, 13% were registered for less than one year, 30% had been registered between one and three years and 28% had been registered for more than 10 years.

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When considering this data, I can’t help but recall a 2012 article published in Lawyers Weekly quoting Maria Jockel (Accredited Specialist – Immigration Law) which stated –

“The turnover of migration agents is extraordinary,” Jockel said, adding that the “fleeting nature” of those that work in the migration advice industry is concerning.

At the time, I recall there was frustration amongst Migration Agents (including myself) who were unhappy with Ms Jockel’s remarks – how dare a Senior Migration Lawyer publicly suggest that my services, ability and competence was somehow inferior!

Understandably, my feelings at the time were affected by high levels of frustration. I did not understand the underlying basis for Ms Jockel’s opinion. After all, I was a skilled Migration Agent who was helping many clients succeed, and felt that her words were a scathing attack on my competence and ability as a professional.

Reviewing the data published in my previous article, it is easy to see how Maria Jockel reached this opinion. Whilst there has been a progressive increase in the registration of Migration Agents since the Lawyers Weekly article was published, Ms Jockel’s opinion has been re-validated by the 2017/2018 changes to the 457 visa system which happen to coincide with a reduction in the total number of Registered Migration Agents in Sydney.

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Migration Agent experience is NOT a reflection of competence.

Incompetence can exist in any profession and at any level of experience.

Yet, I have colleagues who have interpreted my article to suggest my belief that ‘agent experience levels are directly linked to competence and level of ability’, despite the fact the entire article is absent of any words to this effect.

In light of the above, I hope that all Migration Agents (Junior and Senior) take the time to understand the factual basis for my professional opinion. It is not my intention to cause offense, but at the same time, there are valid observations that can’t be ignored.

The OMARA Migration Agent Activity Report for 1 July to 31 December 2018 confirms that nationwide, 28 percent of RMA’s have been registered for longer than I have.

The current registration system for Migration Agents commenced in 1992. A reasonable person will consider that Migration Agents who were registered in 1992, and are still practicing today, should be viewed as Australia’s most senior migration professionals.

There are 21 Migration Agents in Sydney who were first registered in 1992 and are still practicing today. Their details are below –

If my first article was a direct attack on the competency of RMA’s with less than five years of experience, then you are welcome to take this subsequent publication as a criticism of my own ability.

Migration Agent competency was not a consideration for my article, which unfortunately has been misinterpreted by a few. Serious consideration needs to be given to the question why 65 percent of the Migration Profession has been practicing for less than 5 years?

This question matters more today than when Maria Jockel was interviewed by Lawyers Weekly in 2012.

Australian visa processing times are progressively increasing and show no sign of improvement. My suggestion that Migration Agent experience serves as a helpful indicator on whether the Agent will assist the client throughout a lengthy process, is not an attack on a Migration Agent’s competency or ability. This is a valid concern for the well being of visa hopefuls, which is supported by OMARA data and current visa processing times.

The OMARA data published in the December 2018 Migration Agent Activity report confirms there is a 50 percent reduction in the number of Migration Agents between the 1-3 and 4-6 year level of experience bracket.

Take a look for yourself –

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Migration Agents who lodge a Subclass 820 Partner visa now must wait up to 28 months for the Department of Home Affairs to decide on their client’s application.

Agent experience does NOT affect competence, but let’s not pretend like the elephant in the room does not exist. When you combine the OMARA data together with current processing times for the Subclass 820 Partner visa, you have a recipe for disaster.

Roz Germov (Barrister and Migration Agent) in the thought-provoking comment she left on my original article has said ‘we work in a jurisdiction that is not a level playing field – where normal admin law rights have been truncated and the system is designed to be unfair to applicants. The constantly changing goalposts and the making of policy on the run for some short term political gain which unfairly impacts on our clients is infuriating and disheartening’.

I recall the day that former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull announced that he would abolish the Subclass 457 visa. The politically motivated announcement, which came as a surprise to all Migration Agents, was designed to appeal to the nationalist wing of the former PM’s centre-right party.

As we approach the 2019 Federal Election, Bill Shorten is promising an overhaul to the 457 visa program. I highly doubt this was a slip of the tongue, as the same message was consistent across numerous media outlets. Bill Shorten has promised to overhaul a visa program that was abolished two years ago. I have no doubt the inaccurate statement was made for political gain – it is fair to say that most people have heard of the 457 visa, but the 482 (TSS) visa (which has replaced the 457) is relatively new, and does not form part of common dialogue that Bill Shorten could use to influence the public vote.

Time will eventually tell whether the proposed changes to the ‘457 visa’ by the main contender for the Prime Ministership, Bill Shorten, will have an impact on Migration Agent numbers. Otherwise, we can remain on standby until the next substantial shift in Australia’s immigration policies occurs.

I am confident that whether it is Bill Shorten promising to overhaul the non-existent 457 visa or any other politician, Australian visa regulations will be subject to ongoing change.

Going back to my analogy about visa hopefuls who are susceptible to uninformed decisions – place yourself in the position of the new Migration Agent who will be taking over the 820 visa file from the retired Agent.

What would your first consultation be like?

In light of ridiculous processing times, my observation is not based on competency, but rather, the longevity of Migration Agents in the profession.