Hongkongers hoping to start a new life overseas have been warned to be careful which immigration firm they pick after several people shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars for nothing.
The city’s consumer watchdog said people should make sure they know the requirements for the country they want to move to, and should not put all their trust in consultants or agencies.
The warning from the Consumer Council came after complaints regarding consultants shot up 62.5 per cent last year, as more and more people look to flee for a fresh start abroad.
In one case, a family paid an agency HK$400,000 (US$51,000) in the hope of relocating to the United States, but more than three years later the application has stalled. The family is trying to get a refund and the case is unresolved.
The council also highlighted the case of a company that used a variety of selling tactics, including saying there would be “no charge for an unsuccessful application”, to persuade a man to spend HK$78,000 on an investment immigration application, so he could relocate to Canada.
That application was ultimately rejected and the firm disputed his demand for a refund.
Gilly Wong Fung-han, the council’s chief executive, said consumers should spend some time to equip themselves with better knowledge of the entry requirements for a country.
“Don’t put all your trust on the immigration consultancy. Emigration requirements for different countries have listed quite clearly online,” she said.
“Even if you have to use some immigration consultancy service firms, when you have already clearly understood the requirements of the country … then your application won’t be easily delayed by others’ excuses. You may also save some money.”
In the case of the man hoping to move to Canada, the firm involved also suggested he pay an extra HK$46,664 to hire a local lawyer to help him manage difficult situations during interviews. The man declined the offer as he did not believe it was necessary.
Eventually, Canadian authorities rejected the application because the man could not present some financial information, and the firm refused to give him a refund.
The council said an employee at the firm told the man he was denied a refund because he did not employ a local lawyer as recommended, which the staffer claimed was the reason behind the application’s failure.
But, in a response to the council, the firm said it had told the man part of the income information might not be sufficient for the application, and said the contract stated no refund would be offered if authorities rejected applications because of the failure to provide the required documents.
The complainant did not follow up further on the case, but told the council the company could be more prudent in assessing the application’s information, and should immediately tell a client if they spotted any issues with an application.
Wong said consumers should study the terms and conditions of a contract carefully as companies offering refunds for an unsuccessful application usually use different clauses to define service failure.
In total, the council received 13 complaints in 2019, up from the eight made the previous year.
Among those complainants was a man who signed a HK$75,000 deal with a company for a British entrepreneur immigration visa.
The man agreed to pay another £30,000 (HK$303,300) for the firm’s British lawyer to prepare a business proposal, with half of the total amount payable upfront.
Delays meant the application was likely to miss a crucial date in March, when British immigration policy was expected to change, and the man cancelled the service and appointed another British lawyer to reapply for him.
The firm involved refused to refund his money after the council got involved, and said it had complied with the client’s request to cancel the service.
The council advised consumers to ensure key dates and goals were agreed if they signed a contract with an immigration agency, to avoid the loss of time and money.