Way before I became a registered migration agent, I was just like anyone of you here in this forum. I am one of many successful Filipinos who aimed for the "Australian Dream". It was not an easy journey but definitely was worth the effort. I too had budget issues with regards to engaging an agent to assist me at that time that's why I do understand if many attempt to go through the process on their own as it definitely can be done, you just need to be on your toes all the time with the recent updates. This forum is a good source but make sure to take in information that really applies to your situation. Always keep in mind that each case is very individual as what may apply to one may not apply to all. For those who may be overwhelmed with too much information and too scared to mess things up, of course nothing beats having an agent to hold your hand and give you the peace of mind and assurance that you're actually on the right track. For this reason, I thought I'd share a few tips on how to pick an agent based on my personal experience and of course of what I know being an agent myself.
1. One of the best ways to find an agent is through www.mara.gov.au.
2. Always ask for the registration number (MARN) of the agent you're dealing with and check the details on the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA) website as it will give you a background check of the agent (i.e. any sanctions or suspension in the past)
3. The first 2 digits of the MARN tells you the year they first got registered. Therefore, it will tell you the years of experience they've got.
4. The MARA requires that all agents provide potential clients the Code of Conduct, Consumer Guide and Fees Estimate at the beginning of engagement. Therefore, you should expect that the agent you're dealing with has provided you with these documents - it goes to show they are abiding to the professional standards.
5. All registered agents can only take payments once a certain agreed service is rendered. This is as per the Code of Conduct so make sure that your agent explains to you how your money will be handled if they take payment in advance.
6. Follow your gut feeling. That trust factor is, at the end the day, one of the main reason when choosing an agent. No one can fake sincerity, you just feel it. Your intuition will just tell you whether the agent will really take care of you. You'll know if the agent sees you as an individual he/she can help to get you to Australia or if you're just a number to add to the business.
7. Lastly, don't be put off with costs. Shop around and do your research as not all agents charge humongous fees. My agent cost me only A$1,000 back in my migration jouney. Also, don't be afraid to ask for partial service as most often than not, agents do provide this.
All the best to your Australian journey!