Legislation changes for Australian immigration lawyers: BDO comments

22 March 2021

From 22 March 2021, lawyers who hold unrestricted practising certificates will no longer be registered as a migration agent with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA) but will be able to give immigration assistance without OMARA registration, and will be regulated solely by their own State or Territory legal professional body.

Australian immigration lawyers will no longer have a Migration Agents Registration Number, known in the profession and by the public as a MARN. The MARN will be replaced with a Law Society Registration Number, which will be held by the relevant law society’s State or Territory database to show an Australian Legal Practitioner Certificate who is registered and able to give immigration advice.

Legal Principal and National Leader of BDO Migration Services, Maria Jockel, comments on the change:

“The release of immigration lawyers from dual-regulation is well overdue. But my concern is that because we have been subject to dual-regulation alongside non-lawyer migration agents since the early 1990’s, there may be confusion amongst the public about who they can engage for help, who is best-able to represent their interests, and where they can connect with those able to help,” Maria said.

“Without a national register that lists practising immigration lawyers, with their contact details, people looking for immigration advice will have to search on each state’s law register to see who practices in this particular field or specialty,” she said.

“For too long, the public has been confused about who is a lawyer and who is a non-lawyer migration agent, and this has had unfortunate outcomes for those who have been poorly advised. With the release of lawyers from dual-regulation, we need to educate the public to enable those in need of migration assistance to have a better understanding of who is best able to assist them.”

“During my time as Chair of the Law Council of Australia Deregulation Working Group, we worked very hard to argue that lawyers be released from the burden of dual-regulation. I’m delighted that after more than three decades, we’re finally being released from dual-regulation. The next challenge is to help the public looking for immigration assistance to understand the change so they can make informed decisions on who is best able to act for them, based on their circumstances.”

From 22 March 2021 the public can approach the following for immigration advice and services:

  • Accredited Immigration Specialist Lawyers;
  • Lawyers with an Unrestricted Legal Practitioner Certificate;
  • Lawyers with a Restricted Legal Practitioner Certificate;
  • Registered non-lawyer Migration Agents.

Maria pointed out that while State and Territory law societies have databases of Accredited Immigration Specialist Lawyers, this still requires people to undertake a search on a State or Territory basis.

There are 100 Accredited Immigration Specialist Lawyers in Australia and 4700 non-lawyer migration agents. Of those lawyers, 1500 to 1700 have an Unrestricted Legal Practitioner Certificate and some 350 have a Restricted Legal Practitioner Certificate.

In November 2017, the Department was receiving over 30,000 visa applications each day and has since predicted a 50-60% increase in demand.

“Australia arguably has the most complex, dynamic and highly codified immigration laws and policies in the world, with some 3,000 pages of legislation and 50,000 of internal policy guidelines of the Department of Home Affairs, relating to some 99 visa categories,” Maria said.

With Australia offering a safe haven during the global pandemic, and significant economic resilience during a time of economic downturn following the closure of our international borders, the demand for temporary and permanent entry continues to grow.

At the same time, the Department of Home Affairs continues its restrictive reform agenda.

Effective from 22 March 2021, the regulation of Registered Migration Agents will fall within the Department of Home Affairs Integrity Operations, as part of a commitment to professional standards, consumer protection and maintaining the integrity of Australia’s border controls.

“At a time of significant concern relating to national security and the integrity of our borders, these historic changes and the release of lawyers from dual regulation have the significant potential to improve professional standards, consumer protection and the integrity of our borders. The actual impact will be seen over time as this highly complex area of law will be open to all lawyers regardless of their skills and experience,” Maria said.