Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Migrating to Oz: Do you need a migration agent?

For the past year, S and I have had many, many discussions on migration with our family and circle of friends. Besides the usual misconceptions that Singaporeans have, one of the more interesting assumptions I noted among our migration-related conversations was this: most people assumed that a migration agent is absolutely necessary and that it was very expensive to engage one. Let me attempt to address the issues pertaining to the use of an agent raised here, in the context of migrating to Australia (only). 

Is engaging a migration agent absolutely necessary?

The short and simple answer is this: No. You can do it 100% on your own. I know this because I have done so, and there are many others out there who completed the process without an agent as well.

To be fair, I completely understand why some of my friends believed engaging a migration agent was compulsory. Prior to 1 July 2012, migrating to Australia as a Skilled migrant (then known as subclass 175 / 176) was an arduous process. I've corresponded with some of my relatives' friends who lamented that it took them a few years to complete the paperwork and procedures back then. The role of an agent was more crucial in the past when applications needed to be mailed in hardcopy with tons of evidence. However, the situation has improved greatly since July last year. DIAC introduced Skillselect (their online system for handling visas) and the entire process has shortened considerably. At the present moment, prospective migrants can complete their application online and simply attach all the necessary documents using the system - in fact, DIAC discourages paper applications by charging an additional fee for them!

Save the trees and apply for your visa online!

On the other hand, there are circumstances where one might be better off hiring an agent than trying to complete the paperwork on your own.  On top of my head, these circumstances might include:
  • If you have slightly more 'complicated' relationships with your secondary applicants. These may include a de-facto partner, a divorced partner or adopted children etc. The onus of proof of your on-going relationship with them is on you - so aside from evidences documenting your relationship, you may benefit from an agent with experience in such aspects
  • If you are someone with no eye for detail (like S). Carelessness in your application will cost you time and may cost you more money, or may even result in a rejection
  • If you are somewhat lazy/very busy and would prefer to pay someone to do it for you
  • If your employment history is complex 
  • If you have several secondary applicants migrating along with you (father, mother, sister, brother, kids....)

For such cases, I believe the potential benefits of having a good agent may outweigh the costs of hiring one. From what I have read, most agencies do not charge for the very first 'consultation', as most licensed agents will consider your background and skills first. They need to determine that you have a decent chance of success before they agree to represent you, since it will reflect on their reputation as well.

What are the downsides of hiring an agent?

Based on the 'horror stories' online and from speaking with Singapore emigrants, the possible downsides include:
  • Longer waiting time. Having a middleman (presumably who handles several cases at a time) means the information needs to go through him before it comes to you. Do note that once you appoint an agent, DIAC will only correspond with your agent
  • Higher cost than DIY, obviously
  • Possibility of hiring a slow/incompetent/irresponsible agent 
  • If you decide to terminate an agent halfway through your application, it's going to cause you more trouble, time and money than not getting one in the first place

What is the actual cost of hiring an agent?

I've no idea at all what the market rate is. You can refer to the MARA Fees list here as a reference. Perhaps a reader with experience could comment on this? Based on my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances (with prior experience dealing with migration agents), it seems to range between S$1000 to S$5000, depending on various factors pertaining to the individual case. Some agents charge significantly more for complex cases, similar to how surgeons charge more for complex surgeries. Several years ago, my aunt paid a lawyer more than $5k to handle everything but she got her PR in less than a year. You get what you pay for, I guess. 

And yes, the agent fees are on top of the other compulsory fees that you will need to pay, such as the lodgement fees, cost of skills assessment and so on.

Is it very tedious to handle the process without an agent?

Yes and no. It depends on what your threshold for 'tedious' and 'troublesome' matters are. As someone who is self-admittedly more meticulous than the average person, I only found 3 aspects of the whole process genuinely tedious : (1) Filling in Form 80 which is compulsory for each applicant; (2) Gathering and certifying all the 30++ documents needed to lodge the application for both of us; (3) Writing to various institutions (NIE, MOE and NTU) requesting for specific letters/statements from them as evidence. In hindsight, I do not think that having an agent would reduce my work by a significant amount, since I would have needed to hunt down all the evidence on my own in the first place.

Do note that having an agent will not likely reduce your wait time, because your agent has little control over an external party or DIAC's processing time. In fact (as mentioned earlier) having an agent may potentially increase your waiting time, especially if he/she is handling several cases at once.

With or without an agent, you cannot avoid the paperwork completely.

If I decide to proceed without an agent, where can I find help if I'm stuck?

With Australia issuing more than 2000 PR invites a month, you are definitely not alone in your journey. Aren't you glad you live in the age of the internet? :)

All the best!
- A

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I'm actually Malaysian, but I find your blog very informative. I just recently decided that I will give this migrating thing a go (recently as in, last week LOL), have just signed up to take the IELTS test this coming June and right now beginning my process of scouring up documents and writing the thesis for skill assessment.

    Like most Malaysians/Singaporeans, I engaged a migration agent, but after consultation, I decided to go DIY. Here's what I think, and I figured it would be nice to share it out:
    1. Not sure about Singapore's agent fees, but over here, the total agent fees is about the same as the total of other fees that you need to fork up for the tests, assessment, visa lodging and whatnot. The quotation I received from the agent was about RM27k, with RM13k payable to the agent. For that amount of money, the agent will help register you for IELTS, provide study materials to you, help review your documents/thesis before submitting for skill assessment, and help you fill up forms for EOI and visa lodging. All of which, to me, is not hard to do by ourselves, it just takes time. The migration agent will not take the test for you, will not write the thesis for you, and will not guarantee you will be successful. So, if you have time and no money, go DIY. If you have money but no time, go to an agent.
    2. I believe the migration (getting PR) process is a way to say hello to your potential host country. If the reason you go to an agent is because you are deterred by the "complexity" of getting PR, you might as well forget about migrating completely, because this getting PR process is the least daunting of all. The real challenge starts after you actually land in your host country.