Registered migration agents provide an essential service in assisting migrants navigate Australia’s visa system. They can help reunite families, assist people seeking asylum, and facilitate the migration of those people with the qualities and skills we need to shape our community, grow Australian business and support Australian jobs.

Registered migration agents are regulated by the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA), which is part of the Department of Home Affairs (the Department). It is unlawful to provide immigration assistance in Australia unless registered with the OMARA, or exempt under the Migration Act 1958 (the Migration Act). Those who do so can be investigated and prosecuted by the Australian Border Force (ABF) or the Australian Federal Police.

While the majority of registered migration agents provide great service, there are some agents and unlawful providers of immigration assistance who exploit both Australia’s immigration system and vulnerable people seeking to visit, work, study and live in Australia.

The Australian Government is committed to making the Australian migration advice industry world class. Already, Government has implemented a range of initiatives towards this vision, including:

  • introducing stronger qualification requirements for new and existing registered migration agents
  • cutting red tape by introducing legislation to remove lawyers from the immigration assistance regulatory scheme
  • removing references to unregistered overseas agents on forms that appoint migration agents
  • comprehensive consultation on a stronger and simpler Code of Conduct for registered migration agents.

Regulation of the migration assistance industry has been comprehensively reviewed, most recently through the 2019 Joint Standing Committee on Migration’s inquiry into the efficacy of current regulation of Australian migration and education agents.

We are now examining how legislation can support a highly qualified and professional industry and ensure Government can effectively combat misconduct and unlawful operators.

This discussion paper sets out the approach for this review and seeks stakeholder views on the scope for industry reform, including a range of suggestions for creating a world class industry. These suggestions do not necessarily represent Government policy and do not presuppose any specific outcome. 

Submissions can be made by no later than 2pm AEST, 27 July 2020.

Scope of the review

The legislative framework governing the migration advice industry prescribes who can provide immigration assistance, disciplinary actions related to registered migration agents and penalties for unlawful migration assistance, registration of migration agents, and the functions of the OMARA. 

Legislation within the review’s scope include:

  • Migration Act 1958 – Part 3 only
  • Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Act 1997 
  • Migration Agents Regulations 1998
  • Migration Agents Registration Application Charge Regulations 1998
  • Migration Agents (IMMI 17/047: CPD Activities, Approval of CPD Providers and CPD Provider Standards) Instrument 2017
  • Migration (IMMI 18/003: Specified courses and exams for registration as a migration agent) Instrument 2018

The following elements of the legislative framework are not within scope:

  • legislation that is currently before Parliament and directly relates to the migration advice industry 
  • the Code of Conduct for Migration Agents (the Code).

In addition to reviewing the legislation itself, the review will consider possible reform measures, organised under three themes:

  • A qualified industry: ensuring individuals have strong qualifications to enter and remain in the migration advice profession.
  • A professional industry: ensuring that registered migration agents conduct their businesses ethically with care, skill, integrity and diligence, and maintain proper and current professional knowledge.
  • Combatting misconduct and unlawful activity: reducing the instances of, and responding to, serious misconduct by registered migration agents and unlawful providers of immigration assistance.

Theme 1: A qualified industry 

To enter the migration advice industry, a person must be the holder of an Australian legal practising certificate, or have obtained a Graduate Diploma in Australian Migration Law and Practice (raised from a Graduate Certificate since 1 January 2018) and pass the Migration Agents Capstone Assessment (the Capstone).

Submissions are sought on the qualification standards required for entry to practice as a registered migration agent, specifically: 

  • suitability of the existing entry requirements to become a registered migration agent 
  • the effectiveness of the current registration requirements, including the suitability of the factors which OMARA considers when assessing whether an applicant is ‘fit and proper’ or a ‘person of integrity’ to be registered
  • whether the OMARA should have the power to impose conditions on an individual’s registration if it has concerns with an applicant’s competency levels 
  • other suggestions for reform, such as the introduction of supervised practice, and associated standards and requirements.

Theme 2: A professional industry

Continuing professional development (CPD) ensures the level of professionalism, knowledge and skill required of registered migration agents is continually improved. This is important because migration legislation is complex and dynamic. To provide the best outcome for their clients, registered migration agents are expected to keep their knowledge and skills up-to-date, and otherwise abide by the Code.

Submissions are sought on the professional standards required of a migration agent, specifically: 

  • continuing professional development requirements 
  • the occupational competency standards required for registered migration agents
  • other suggestions for reform, such as:
  • a migration agent tiering and/or demerit system
  • an industry fidelity fund
  • publishing information on the pricing arrangements for registered migration agents.

Theme 3: Combatting misconduct and unlawful activity

Only registered migration agents can lawfully provide immigration assistance within Australia, unless an exempt person (ss.280-282 of the Migration Act).

Submissions are sought on how the Government combats serious misconduct by registered migration agents and unlawful providers of immigration assistance through the OMARA and the ABF, including the:

  • adequacy of penalties for unlawful providers of migration assistance
  • ABF and OMARA’s powers relating to monitoring and investigating misconduct by registered migration agents
  • adequacy of OMARA’s disciplinary actions in deterring and addressing misconduct by registered migration agents
  • adequacy of consumer protections, including in relation to unregulated offshore migration assistance.

Making a submission

Submissions can be made through our online submission form until 2pm AEST, 27 July 2020.

Submissions will ideally address the matters posed in this discussion paper, however other contributions are also welcome. Submissions will be used to inform advice to Government on key components of the review.

Submissions will not receive an individual response, however, authors may be contacted by the Department where appropriate to seek further information or clarification.