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Understanding the Code of Conduct for RMA’s – Complaints, Obligations and Duties

The role of a practitioner in preparing an application or a matter before the AAT is crucial.  All practitioners are always bound by the Code of Conduct therefore it is important that a practitioner understands their duties and obligations towards clients.

What is a client?

Deciding who your client is in a migration advice engagement is often the first critical question to be answered. Getting this right will help set you on the right path. Getting this wrong, or not taking the time to consider it, may lead to potential confusion, misunderstanding and disputes. Each year the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA) receives a number of complaints and queries which may not have arisen had this question been considered carefully by the RMA.

In understanding who is a “client”, RMAs should be aware of the legislative requirements. The Migration Agents Regulations 1998 define a client as: “a person to whom the agent agrees (whether or not in writing) to provide immigration assistance” (regulation 3(1)).

This means that even if a practitioner overlooks entering into an Agreement for Services and Fees with a client, if they provide that person with immigration assistance, then they are a client and  professional obligations under the Code of Conduct for registered migration agents (the Code) arise. An RMA can have obligations to more than one person when providing immigration assistance.

Duties and Responsibilities

Under the Code of Conduct, a registered migration agent has a duty to preserve the confidentiality of his or her clients.  A registered migration agent must not disclose, or allow to be disclosed, confidential information about a client or a client’s business without the client’s written consent, unless required by law.

Once a registered migration agent has agreed to work for a client, but before commencing that work, the agent must:

(a) provide the client with a copy of the consumer guide; and

(b) make a record that the copy has been provided.

A registered migration agent must inform clients that they are entitled to receive copies of the application under the Migration Act or Migration Regulations and any related documents if they want copies. The agent may charge a reasonable amount for any copies provided. A registered migration agent must have an address and telephone number where the agent can be contacted during normal business hours. If a registered migration agent changes his or her address, telephone number or any other details that are recorded on the Register of Migration Agents, the agent must give a written notice.

What happens if a complaint arises?

Unfortunately, not all transactions go as smooth as we would like them to go.  Therefore it is important to recognise a problem as soon as it arises.  Picture an “iceberg”.  This analogy is often used to explain the complexity of professional relationships.  The reason being is that we can only see the tip of the iceberg whilst the majority remains underwater.  This parallels to agent and client relationship. A client may tell you they are “not happy with the service”. However there may be a bigger issue floating beneath the surface.  Perhaps your client is an anxious person?  Or they may simply have other problems they are facing.  The important elements to ensure that a complaint does not escalate is to:

-        Listen

-        Understand

-        Empathise

Avoiding misunderstanding:

Complaints against registered migration agents often result from poor communication, which leads to misunderstanding. In such situations your client may have a poor understanding of processes or unrealistic expectations, so maintaining good communication is key. Indeed, it is good practice.

A well-informed client will not need to ask you as many questions that can take up your valuable time.

Here are tips to help practitioners manage client relationships:

  • provide a written assessment of the prospects of success of your client’s visa application
  • ensure your client understands your fees, associated application fees and other costs
  • have your client sign an Agreement for Services and Fees (contract) outlining what you will provide, and for how much, to confirm their understanding and yours. be specific about the documents your client needs to provide and when 
  • provide a realistic estimate of how long it will take you to prepare your client’s visa application, and how long it will take to process their application once it is submitted
  • show your client information that can be verified, such as application processing times
  • provide your client with prompt and regular updates about the progress of their application and the outcome, when it is available
  • let your clients know if you plan to take leave and make contingency plans for deadlines that may arise
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