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Choosing Immigration Consultant Carefully to Avoid Loss in Money and Time Read Contract Terms Carefully and be mindful to “No Charge on Unsuccessful Case” Claim
The market for immigration consultant blooms as many consumers rely on these agencies to handle the formalities in the hope of increasing their chances of success. However, the Consumer Council is concerned about the disparity in the service quality of these agencies. Some consumers have complained about the slow progress of the immigration agency in preparing business proposals, causing much delay and the chances of approval for the application; there were also agencies failed to properly obtain the approval on labor certification, leaving the applicant to wait for a year without progress; some agencies claimed “no charge on unsuccessful case”, but when some complainants eventually failed to submit the required documents, their immigration applications were rejected without refund. The Council advised consumers to specify the relevant application service pledge when signing a contract with immigration agencies, such details should include an agreeable date to get the application completed; the follow-up arrangement if applications are not completed as scheduled; and the terms of refund in case the application is rejected. This would avoid the loss of substantial amount of time and money of the complainants, which may eventually affect their personal plan.
Owing to the cumbersome procedures of immigration application, the Council urges the industry to improve the service quality; enhance information transparency; maintain close communications with partners such as local lawyers and operators, and keep the applicants informed of the development, so as to ensure application process is being carried out as scheduled. In case there are special circumstances causing any complications to the application, immigration agencies should notify the consumers immediately and provide related recommendations as soon as possible.
Case 1: Cancellation of service does not comply with refund terms even though business proposal was not completed as scheduled
Earlier last year, a complainant appointed Company A to apply for a British entrepreneur immigration visa for HKD75,000 and another GBP30,000 as a fee for a British lawyer of Company A to prepare a business proposal. Half of the total fee was paid when signing the contract. Company A planned to submit an application to the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong on 1 March but the applicant was informed by the company in mid-February that the application date has to be postponed as the business proposal was not yet completed.
The complainant later noticed that effective on 29 March the British immigration policy would change and thus sought for a progress update. Yet no solid reply was received till 11 March. The complainant grudgingly accepted the advice of a local friend to cancel the service with Company A and appointed another British lawyer to re-apply for the immigration visa. Eventually the visa was granted. The complainant opined that Company A was irresponsible and failed to fulfill its service pledge and requested the Council to assist in recovering part of the service fee.
Company A responded to the Council that it met the complainant’s request through an email to cancel the application of British entrepreneur immigration visa, as well as to cancel the online application through the British lawyer. Company A reiterated that no refund would be made if the applicant terminated the agency or withdrew the application due to applicant’s personal or family reason, as clearly stated in the contract. The complainant did not request for further follow-up after the Council relayed to him the feedback of Company A.
Case 2: Skilled immigration failed after collaborating farm suspended work permit
Company B proposed to the complainant to apply for Employment-Based Immigrant Visas (Unskilled Workers) and helped arrange a local full-time job. The charge was USD28,000. It was expected to obtain a labor certification approval in about 6 months and obtain a Permanent Resident Card (generally called “Green Card”) after working for about a year. Complainant was happy with the job proposed by Company B, thus paid the first installment payment of USD20,000.
Complainant submitted the required documents as instructed but no progress had been made after 6 months. After numerous follow-ups with Company B, the complainant was told that the farm had changed its owner and it was under investigation due to unsatisfactory operation, thus approval on labor certification had to be suspended. Having waited desperately for more than a year, the complainant was still unable to work in the United States and sought redress from the Council as Company B rejected to refund.
Consensus was reached by both parties after conciliation where complainant accepted a refund of USD10,000 and agreed to terminate the immigration application. The case was settled.
Case 3: Be mindful to “no charge on unsuccessful case” claim, applications declined due to missing documents would not be refunded
Leveraged on its advertisement claiming “no charge on unsuccessful case” and other promotional offers, Company C attracted the complainant to engage it for an investment immigration application to Canada for a fee of HKD78,000. Afterwards, staff of Company C suggested a few times to the complainant to pay an extra fee of USD6,000 for hiring a local lawyer to help managing difficult situations during the interview. Complainant did not see this arrangement necessary and declined the suggestion.
Since the complainant received some of the job payroll by cash, when an Immigration Officer later checked his accounting and auditing records of a certain year during the interview, the complainant was unable to present the required information, eventually causing his application being declined. The complainant thus requested Company C to refund the consultancy fee based on the claim of “no charge on unsuccessful case”. During negotiations, a staff of Company C indicated that the result of his application being declined was due to his failure to follow the suggestion of the company to engage a local lawyer and so no refund would be made. The complainant found it unsatisfactory as it was not stated clearly the need to additionally hire a lawyer when the contract was signed and he thus lodged a complaint to the Council.
In response to the Council’s enquiry, Company C denied the fact that not hiring a lawyer was the cause of the application being declined, yet they stated that their staff did remind the complainant part of the income information might not be sufficient for the application. Company C reiterated the reason for their suggestion to the complainant to hire a local lawyer was to facilitate the application based on their past experiences, but it was resolutely refused by the complainant. The company believed they had offered the required service by arranging an interview with Immigration Officer for the complainant. It was also stated in the contract terms that if the unsuccessful application was due to the failure to provide the required documents, it was not in the scope of refund. The complainant did not request for further follow-up after learning the result of the conciliation but still expressed that Company C should be more prudent in assessing the applicant’s information and should immediately remind the applicant when they found any problem in it, instead of submitting the immigration application recklessly.
Consumers applying for immigration visa consulting agency are reminded to pay heed to the following:
- When planning for immigration, consumers should check with relevant official website or the Consulates in Hong Kong to learn about the application categories available for immigration and the actual application procedure, but never solely rely on the information provided by the immigration agencies, and should also compare the service fees and reputations among these agencies;
- Some countries may have specific immigration criteria, consumers should check for proper application requirements and the deadline of information submission in order not to affect the application, such as financial records, proof of academic qualifications, medical check-up reports etc, or whether it is required to obtain the specific language level within a certain time;
- In general, the scope of refund does not cover unsuccessful application caused by insufficient information provided by the applicant or the information submitted fail to meet the requirements, consumers thus should request the agencies to explain clearly the terms stated in the refund policy when a contract is signed;
- It takes time to process immigration application, consumers are advised to closely communicate with the agencies and inquire regularly about the latest application requirements and related procedures from various Consulate in Hong Kong or official websites. Once there is any change in immigration policy, consumers should enquire with the agencies to understand the impact as soon as possible.
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