Sheikh Walîd b. Ibrâhîm al-`Ajâjî, professor al-Imâm University in Riyadh
If the business is as you describe it in your question, then it appears to me that it is lawful. The agency is being paid in lieu of its efforts to search for employment on behalf of its clients, by looking through various indexes and consulting government offices, and by various other means. If the agency fails to find any work for its client, it refunds the initial sum.
This type of contract is known in Islamic Law as ja`âlah, whereby a person pays a fixed sum to another for some work from the other for a fixed or unspecified period of time.
The evidence for the lawfulness of such a contract is as follows:
1. Allah says: “They said: ‘We have lost the great drinking vessel of the king. For him who produces it is the reward of a camel load. I will be bound by it.” [Sûrah Yûsuf: 72]
Here we have a fixed sum being offered for the procurement of the king’s cup.
2. We have the story of a group of Companions from Madinah who went to a small Arab village seeking their hospitality which was flatly refused them. Then the chief of that village was stung by a scorpion and the villagers asked the Companions to perform ruqyah for him. One man from among them said: “I will not offer any ruqyah until you specify for us a sum.” They agreed to pay an allotment of sheep. Later, when the matter was related to the Prophet (peace be upon him), he concurred with what they did. [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]
However, a word of caution is in order. I fear that in some cases, this set-up might be used as a disguised form of bribery. Sometimes, those in a position to hire people set up such offices or work in conjunction with the offices of others to ensure that those who get hired pay him some money.
Under such circumstances, it is not permitted for a person to pay money to the office to secure employment or to gain admission into a university. The way employment and admissions into universities is supposed to be determined is on the basis of factors like a person’s qualifications or order of application, not on the basis of who pays money to the one doing the hiring. That is nothing but a bribe.
`Abd Allah b. `Amr relates to us that “the Prophet (peace be upon him) cursed the one who gives a bribe and the one who accepts one.” [Sunan Abî Dâwûd and Sunan al-Tirmidhî]
Source: Islam Today