Dubai: Global immigration is at an all-time high. From 1990 to 2010, the number of high-skilled workers residing in OECD countries (members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), increased by nearly 130 per cent according to the World Bank. Only four OECD countries are the landing destination for nearly 70 per cent of the 28 million migrants – Canada, US, UK and Australia.
The UAE, too, is a temporary home for millions of residents. As many residents look to relocate to another country for permanent residence, immigration agents become increasingly in demand.
Regardless of the country that you wish to move to, it is critical to select an immigration agent with care.
Gulf News reader S.A. (name withheld on request), who has worked in the UAE for over 12 years, shared his experience trying to immigrate to Sweden on an investor visa.
He said: “I paid Dh38,000 to start the application back in 2016. Initially, I would get calls from the company asking me how I am doing and telling me that their agent in Abu Dhabi is in touch with the Swedish embassy there. Then, after a while they told me that there is a good investor programme in the UK, asking me if I wanted to change the country I was immigrating to. Now, there are no calls or a response from them. Last year, I was told that the officer managing my case has left the company and the new agent does not respond to my calls. I tried to contact Dubai Multi Commodities Centre Authority (DMCC) who told me that I should approach the courts. Starting a court case would mean spending more time and money. I don’t know what to do.”
To ensure that readers select an agent carefully and do not end up facing unexpected situations, here is a checklist to follow.
1. Which visa should I apply for?
Countries have various categories of visas that they offer aspiring immigrants. These can range from investor visa, to skilled worker visa to family sponsorship. There are also provincial or state-based visa programmes that one can apply for.
For the purpose of this story, we will be focusing purely on skilled-migration visa. Skilled migration, as found by the World Bank, is largely focused on four countries – US, UK, Canada and Australia.
The United States alone has historically hosted close to half of all high‐skilled migrants to the OECD and one‐third of high‐skilled migrants worldwide. In 2016, then President Barack Obama said: "We're the nation that just had six of our scientists and researchers win Nobel Prizes—and every one of them was an immigrant."
So, how do you choose which country to apply for and how to choose the right agent?
2. Which country should I apply to?
Instead of sticking a pin on the map at the start of your decision making process, you need to first look at why you want to immigrate? Nofi Mojidi, a senior manager at Fragomen, an international immigration firm, said that the first thing she does is find out about her client’s motivations.
“What are the push and pull factors that are catapulting them to actually make this decision to move?” she said, explaining the initial ‘fact-finding’ session.
Some of the common factors Mojidi has found are
1. Diversification of wealth and protecting assets.
2. Family or ancestral links
3. Ease of travel – getting a passport that enables you to travel a lot more easily instead of waiting for months in advance for a visa.
4. Experiencing other communities – living in a country that exposes them, their children and loved ones to new cultures, opportunities, communities and diaspora.
“Once we fully understand what those motivations are we'll get into a conversation on what kinds of options exist. We kind of go from the bottom to the top. We want to fact find and understand personally, professionally and possibly even financially, what are those things that are motivating them,” Mojidi added.
Once we fully understand what a client's motivations are we'll get into a conversation on what kinds of options exist. We kind of go from the bottom to the top. We want to fact find and understand personally, professionally and possibly even financially, what are those things that are motivating them.
3. How do I know which agent is best for me?
While you might have heard of horror stories of immigration agencies not dealing with clients, there are ways in which you can protect yourself.
a. Research the process
The first thing to do is due diligence – do your research on immigration processes, the departments that deal with the cases, how long the process can take and what the government fees are. If you are aware of the processes it would be easier to know if your agent is providing partial or incorrect information.
b. Do a credibility check
Whether it is by checking on the company’s website or finding their reviews on social platforms like Facebook or Google reviews, find out if the company has a lot of negative reviews. While some negative reviews might not be genuine or valid, they can give you a fair idea of possible problems you could face. Another way to know that a company is credible is to find out for how long they have been operational and if they are part of any international associations. Canada, for example, has an Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), https://iccrc-crcic.ca/ , which is a national regulatory body that serves and protects the public by overseeing licensed immigration and citizenship consultants and international student advisors. Similarly, Australia has an Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA). Legitimate migration agents to Australia have to register with the authority and you can check their agent number on the website. https://www.mara.gov.au/
c. Look at how transparent your agent is
Mojidi spoke about the need to establish a healthy, trustworthy relationship with your agent. “Make sure that the advisor is very transparent on the process and the fees. Look at their willingness to give you a thorough understanding of the end-to-end process, show a breakdown of the fees, both government and professional, and openness with questions you raise. They should be able to do this. If this is their expertise then they should be able to deliver [the information on] every single point of the process because they've already gone through that experience,” she said.
d. Ask questions
You are well within your rights to ask the agent to prove their credentials both in the UAE as well as immigration agents for the country you are applying to. Another aspect to enquire about is the agency’s contacts in the new country, including professional job matching companies or agents who will help you once you first arrive at your destination.
It is important to note that all these steps need to be taken before you sign the contract and make any payments.
Once you have zeroed in on an agent that you are comfortable with, ask them how regularly you can expect updates from them and by when you can get a case number for your immigration file. This is an important piece of information as it allows you to follow up on your case even if your agent or immigration consultancy fails to do so.
A discount might not be the best deal
One of the last things to look at is a low cost of professional services that a consultancy might be offering. If a consultancy is offering a discount of a few thousand dirhams but is unable to provide you with satisfactory answers when you do a credibility or background check, the decision can cost a lot more in the long run.
4. How long would I need to wait before I get a job?
While most immigration departments have a ‘job pool’ where you can enter your name, the reality is that getting a job in a new country that suits your qualifications and expectations is not a cake walk.
Some professions would need the job seeker to get the country’s licence, like medical professionals. In other cases, your industry might not have many job openings.
Ideally, your agent should provide the details of what the job market is like and whether your profession is in demand in the host country (this can also speed up your permanent residence application approval). However, it is always advisable to speak to acquaintances in your host country who might be in the same industry. Speaking to friends or those referred to you by someone you trust can give you a real understanding of the practical challenges and the waiting period you can expect when you land.
5. How much money do I need to save up before immigrating?
Apart from the cost of the immigration process, aspiring individuals and families also need to plan ahead for the strain the relocation will put on their finances. These are some of the expenses you need to consider:
1. Food and accommodation, in line with the country’s cost of living, for the period that you have anticipated it will take you to find a job.
2. Health insurance
3. Schooling, in case your children are moving with you.
4. Emergency funds – this can be crucial as any emergency in a new country can be especially difficult to deal with and would require some amount of money kept away safely.
Cost of living - get a real idea
How do you know how much this would literally come up to? Once again, ask your agent. Have a meeting with your agent to specifically find out what the rents are in the state or province you are planning to move to. Several online blogs also breakdown what the cost of living is in any city, with details of how much a loaf of bread or a night out at the movies would cost. Contact agencies, rental companies and schools in your host country to get specific information to ensure you have planned things out.
These are some of the steps that you can take to make sure you follow due diligence before making the big decision to migrate to another country.