In Australia, a person who assists you in making an application to DIAC for a visa, or an application to a court/tribunal on an immigration matter, must usually be registered with the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA). Such a person is known as a Registered Migration Agent (RMA).
In order to become an RMA, a person must have a certain level of knowledge of immigration law and meet certain other requirements. There are requirements to keep knowledge up to date (to a certain level) in order to maintain registration.
Australian lawyers can register as RMAs if they wish to work in immigration. However, many RMAs are not lawyers.
Some aspects of immigration are not covered by the regulations and technically, a non-RMA can grant assistance. These include:
- applications for state government sponsorship;
- applications for skill assessment;
- Australian citizenship applications.
Many RMAs also belong to the Migration Institute of Australia (MIA).
 Seven digit registration number
- Every RMA has a seven digit registration number with MARA. You should ask for this.
- The first two digits signify the year of registration. For example, 9911111 means that the agent was registered in 1999.
- If the agent has a number that shows a more recent first registration, such as 0911111 (registered in 2009), you should ask some questions about how much experience the agent has. It is possible that the agent was previously involved in immigration in another aspect, such as working for DIAC.
- Similarly, even if the agent was registered a long time ago, it is possible that the agent has not been practising very much.
- You can use the number to check on the MARA website for any complaints or sanctions. But also use the name in case the agent was registered previously with a different number (if an agent lets registration lapse and then re-registers as a first time applicant, a new number is issued).
 What areas does an agent specialise in?
There is a wide range of areas that an agent can deal in, including:
- skilled visas. Many 60-point skill assessment authorities (tradesmen, IT practitioners, senior managers, engineers, and so on) have quite specific requirements and generally, only agents dealing in this area will be familiar with all of them.
- student visas
- business skill migration
- refugee and protection visas
- applications to review tribunals and the courts
- family visas
- special problems that can arise out of character issues, medical issues, or child custody complications.
There are some agents out there who have enough breadth of experience to provide a "full service", in other words, competent advice on a wide range of visas. Other agents choose to specialise in only one or two areas of migration. If you ask an agent to assist you and the agent does not feel qualified, the agent should advise you of that and if possible, refer you to another.
 Do I need an agent?
Some people do their own migration application. However, skilled migration is now substantially more complex than in 2002-03 and a good agent will add a lot of value. Making the wrong choice of agent usually leads to a worse outcome than doing it yourself. So choose carefully.
 Does my agent need to be a lawyer?
Generally, no, if you are applying for a skilled visa, unless you intend to test some point of legal principle. In fact, a non-lawyer RMA will usually know more about certain areas of visas, such as skilled visas, than a typical lawyer.
On the other hand, there are some areas of migration that involve specific legal principles (unusual for the majority of offshore cases) and in these cases, a lawyer agent is essential.
If you do need a lawyer, make sure your lawyer is not just an RMA, but also an accredited specialist in immigration law by at least one State/Territory law society.
 Agents outside Australia
There are a few RMAs outside Australia, but not many. This is because one of the requirements is to be an Australian citizen, permanent resident, or New Zealand citizen (in Australia).
If you choose an unregistered offshore agent, and things go wrong, there is nothing MARA can do to assist you.
 How to choose a migration agent
Consider the following:
- agent's length of experience, and just as importantly, areas of expertise.
- references from others
- cost of service. Some agents work on a fixed fee basis, others charge by the hour. Usually a fixed fee is preferable. An amount of AUD2,500 is not unreasonable for the agent to manage your skilled visa application (excluding DIAC and other fees), although if you have already done skill assessment you may be able to negotiate a reduction. If you are outside Australia, the agent should not charge you the Australian 10% GST. MARA publishes average cost data on its website.
- who are you dealing with? This is important. Make sure you will be dealing with the RMA directly and not a representative (you may deal with administrative staff and paralegals but all immigration assistance should come from an RMA). Companies cannot register as RMAs, only individuals.
- use your "gut feeling". You will be dealing very closely with your RMA, make sure you choose one with whom you are comfortable.
Some agents offer a "no visa, no fee" service. It is up to you whether you consider this or not. Many agents, including many of the more experienced agents, instead prefer simply not to take on cases that they feel have little or no chance of a visa. An experienced agent has a professional reputation that he or she usually wants to protect.
Some people prefer to have an agent based in home country, but for skilled visas, the processing is usually done in Australia so having an Australia-based agent makes sense. Communication can easily be done by phone or email. If documents need to be sent, there are good courier services (FedEx, DHL, etc).
Before you become a client, your RMA should give you a Statement of Services outlining the services to be provided and the associated fees. You should also get a copy of the Code of Conduct, read it and become familiar with it.
 What can your agent do for you?
Your agent can:
- advise you whether or not you have a realistic chance of getting a visa;
- identify opportunities in the migration laws that you may not have noticed on your own;
- present your application in the best light to DIAC or another authority. This is especially important if you case is marginal, or if it has some unusual or complex aspects.
- certify documents as true copies (but he or she must have the originals, so unless you are located in the same area, this does not aff value).
 What your agent CANNOT do
On the other hand, your agent cannot:
- make you eligible for a visa if you clearly do not fit any of the criteria
- guarantee you a visa, even if it appears you have a good chance
- influence DIAC to make a decision that would not be legal
- predict future changes to the law, which may affect your application (your agent might know about rumours or plans, but sometimes there are suprises announced from DIAC)
You also have to obtain your employment references, documents such as birth certificates, education certificates and transcripts, etc. In other words, your agent cannot do any of the "legwork" for you.
 How to deal with your agent
You have paid a lot for the service of your RMA, so you have the right to expect the agent to file your application as quickly as possible, and also you have the right to expect your agent to be in regular contact with you. Good agents are happy to facilitate this. If you send an email or make a phone call you should expect a reply within a day or two.
On the other hand, don't "pester" your agent with daily calls or emails. Migration is a matter of months and sometimes years, not days.
It is acceptable to be an informed client. If you see something on the DIAC website or elsewhere that you think might be relevant to your case, by all means bring it to your agent's attention and ask for a comment.
 If it all goes wrong
Normally you should try to work things out with your agent and find a way to amicably resolve the problem, or terminate services, however if this doesn't work:
- There is a complaints procedure at the MARA website
- If your agent belongs to the MIA, you may also complain to the MIA.
- Same goes if the agent belongs to a law society or another professional body (such as a Chartered Accountant) - these professional bodies all have complaints procedures.
- There are time limits for making a complaint in most cases.
- The RMA must return to you any of your documents, and a copy of your file (subject to a reasonable charge). An agent cannot withhold documents in a dispute over fees.
Any fees outstanding are a matter of civil law and the agent will have to take legal action to force you to pay. If you have paid fees in advance, the agent must hold these in a clients account until services have been provided and the clients account is subject to MARA regulation.
You can notify DIAC that you are no longer the client of an agent by using Form 956. Most skill assessment and state authorities either have their own form for this purpose or will accept a form 956.
If you wish to hire a new RMA you need to show that agent a copy of your notice to the previous agent terminating services.