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Barriers to be removed for much-needed migration lawyers

Barriers to be removed for much-needed migration lawyers

By Karin Derkley



A change to the regulatory regime governing migration lawyers will bring down barriers for pro bono lawyers who want to help asylum seekers apply for refugee status as well as those wanting to work in migration law generally, say those working in the field.

Following a review of the migration agent sector, a Federal parliamentary committee has recommended passing legislation that will permit lawyers to offer their services independently of the regulatory body for migration matters.

The LIV has long campaigned against the requirement that any lawyer working in the area of migration law has had to be registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA), describing the process as “unwarranted, time consuming and expensive”.

Immigration lawyer Carina Ford, a member of the LIV Migration Law section who was also involved in the LCA campaign to end the dual regulation, says the regime has been contrary to the best interests of the migration advice industry by discouraging lawyers from practising in the area.

“There is a shortage of lawyers working in this area at the same time as there is huge demand for lawyers to assist in these areas,” Ms Ford says. “Unlike all other lawyers we’ve had two regulatory bodies, and had to pay an extra fee per year for each lawyer in the firm – around $1600 per person.”

“If you were just starting up and you knew you had to pay $1600 upfront to register, you might think, well maybe that’s not for me.”

At Justice Connect, which recruits pro bono lawyers to assist with asylum seekers applying for refugee status, the recommendation has been warmly welcomed. “It’s been a long time coming,” says Alan Yang, Justice Connect’s manager of public interest law.

“Ending that requirement will remove a huge barrier for pro bono lawyers wanting to help out in this area.” Justice Connect, along with Refugee Legal and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre have been involved in processing the “legacy caseload” of around 31,000 people across Australia who were caught up in the Federal Government’s demand they fast-track their applications for a temporary protection visa.

Many lawyers who have wanted to help asylum seeker applicants with their applications and interviews have been put off by the requirement that they be registered as a migration agent, a time-consuming process that included having their name advertised on the OMARA website for 30 days before they could act as volunteers, Mr Yang says.

“We’ve had an unprecedented legal need and we’ve been working to encourage pro bono layers to get involved – but that requirement to become a migration agent has been a real obstacle.”

Removing the requirement will make for a much better system that will encourage more lawyers to get involved, Mr Yang says.

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