In 2019, Mr. Chan engaged Company A to apply for a UK entrepreneur immigration visa for a service fee of HK$75,000. Mr. Chan was also asked to pay £30,000 to Company A’s U.K. lawyer as legal fees and for the preparation of a business proposal. Mr. Chan was asked to pay half of the total fee at signing. Company A was supposed to submit the visa application to the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong on 1st March, but Mr. Chan was told in mid-February that the application would need to be postponed as the business proposal was not yet ready. Out of good faith, Mr. Chan did not object to such postponement.
However, Mr. Chan later learned that the U.K. immigration policy would change on 29th March, which would have a direct impact on his application. He then enquired about the status of the business proposal, but until 11th March he still did not receive any reply from Company A. In order to submit the application prior to the policy change, Mr. Chan, after consulting a friend who had already immigrated to the U.K., cancelled the original application and lodged a new application via a U.K. lawyer introduced by his friend. Mr. Chan told the Council that he was granted with the visa eventually but Company A´s failure to render its services was an irresponsible act and had nearly messed up his overall immigration plan. Therefore Mr. Chan requested a refund of the fees that he had already.
Company A responded to the Council saying that it received an email from Mr. Chan on 13th March requesting to cancel the visa application and withdraw the associated online registration. Company A said it had followed Mr. Chan’s instructions and assisted him in cancelling the application. Company A reiterated that the contract had stipulated that no refund would be made if the applicant terminated the agency service or withdrew the application unilaterally due to personal or family reasons. Mr. Chan did not request for further assistance after the Council relayed to him the feedback from Company A.
In November 2017, Ms. Cheung who intended to immigrate to the U.S. sought advice from an immigration consulting company (“Company B”) which recommended her to apply under the category of Employment-Based Immigrant Visas (Unskilled Workers). The total fee was US$28,000 and Company B claimed that they could assist in securing a local full-time job for her. The staff told Ms. Cheung that it would take about 6 months to obtain the labor certification approval from the Department of Labor and after that the employer could file an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, Form I-140. The final step would involve a consular interview, and typically one should expect to obtain the Green Card after working in the U.S. for about 1 year. Ms. Cheung considered the timeframe as well as the proposed employment arrangement at a farm acceptable, and thus made an initial payment of US$20,000.
Ms. Cheung submitted the required documents as instructed but no progress was made for 6 months. After making numerous enquiries, she was told that the farm had gone through an ownership change and it was also under investigation due to operational issues, and therefore the labor certification application had to be suspended. Not being able to get a refund, Ms. Cheung turned to the Council for assistance. Having waited for a year, no progress was made on her application process, and there was no visibility as to when she could start working in the U.S. Ms. Cheung did not want to waste any more time and requested for a partial refund in accordance with the terms of the contract.
After the Council´s conciliation efforts, both parties reached agreement whereby Company B would make a refund of US$10,000 to Ms. Cheung and the immigration contract would be terminated. The case was resolved satisfactorily.
Enticed by the “no charge on unsuccessful case” policy and other promotional offers, Mr. Lee engaged Company C to help him to immigrate to Canada under the investment category, and paid a consultancy fee of HKD78,000. After providing all the documents, Mr. Lee was asked (several times) by the staff of Company C to engage a local lawyer to assist in the interview process for an additional fee of US$6,000. Mr. Lee declined such suggestion as he did not find it necessary and considered the fee a little steep.
In March 2019, Mr. Lee went to a consular interview, and during which he was asked to provide certain accounting and audit records for a particular year. As some of his income was paid in cash, he was unable to present the required information, eventually causing his application being rejected. Mr. Lee thus requested Company C to refund the consultancy fee in accordance with the terms of the contract. Mr. Lee said Company C stressed in subsequent dialogues that the rejection was due to his failure to follow the Company’s suggestion of engaging a local lawyer and therefore no refund would be made. Mr. Lee did not agree with this argument and said that Company C did not make the engagement of a local lawyer a condition at the time of signing, and thus lodged a complaint with the Council.
In response to the Council’s enquiry, Company C denied the fact that not hiring a local lawyer was the cause of the rejection. It said that its staff did remind Mr. Lee that his income information might not be sufficient for the application, but he did not provide any supplementary information. Company C stressed that it had made the recommendation of engaging a local lawyer to Mr. Lee, which he had declined, based on its previous experience, reiterated that the lawyer could assist by organising mock interviews and accompanying the client to the interview.
Company C believed it had rendered the necessary services and had assisted Mr. Lee all the way until the consular interview. However, the outcome of the application could not be controlled by the company. According to the terms of the contract, no refund would be made for any unsuccessful application due to failure to provide sufficient information or discrepancies found. After getting the feedback, Mr. Lee did not request for further assistance. However, he still reckoned that Company C should be more prudent in assessing the applicant’s information and should immediately remind the applicant when they find any potential issue, instead of submitting the immigration application hastily.