For a long time, any Australian lawyer looking to practise immigration law has had to register as a migration agent and maintain that registration by, among other things, paying an annual registration fee to the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA) and completing MARA-approved CPD. However, with pending legislation set to remove legal practitioners from the Migration Agents Registration Scheme, along with recent changes by the MARA exempting legal practitioners from the requirement to complete MARA approved CPD, conditions are improving for both existing and prospective immigration lawyers.
To cater to those lawyers already practising in immigration law as well as the expected influx of lawyers seeking to practise in the field once MARA deregulation occurs, The College of Law has partnered with specialist legal, advisory, and educational firm Nomos, whose leaders have been at the forefront of Australian migration law for over 20 years. Together, Nomos and the College will provide a series of CPD courses for both new and veteran immigration lawyers.
Insights spoke to Peter Papadopoulos and Kathryn Viegas from Nomos (pictured left) about their experience as immigration lawyers, their upcoming CPD courses, and the ways in which practising immigration law can benefit any lawyer.
“There are currently over 6,500 registered migration agents in Australia – over 1,300 of whom are practising lawyers,” Papadopoulos said.
“For the past twenty years, these lawyers have needed to qualify as both legal practitioners and migration agents so they could offer the full suite of immigration law services to their clients.”
Papadopoulos refers to the inclusion of lawyers in the Migration Agents Registration Scheme. Despite strong opposition from lawyers, the High Court found in 1994 that it was constitutional for legal practitioners to be regulated under that scheme when providing immigration assistance.
However, in June 2014, an independent review was conducted into the Office of MARA. Among other things, the review concluded that lawyers should be removed from the scheme, and that the MARA CPD process should be amended.
The latter recommendation, implemented on 22 August 2016, affords 10 MARA CPD points to a registered migration agent who also holds an Australian legal practising certificate, thereby lightening the burden of dual regulation. The former, which is expected to take effect in 2017, will mean that Australian legal practitioners will no longer need to be registered as migration agents thereby alleviating the burden of dual regulation altogether.
What does this mean for lawyers?
While this will be of immense value to the 1,300 legal practitioners already practising immigration law, this change will also create a wealth of possibility for the other 60,000 legal practitioners currently not practising in the field.
“By practising immigration law, a lawyer can offer more services to existing clients as well as attract new ones,” Viegas said.
“For example, if you’re an employment lawyer and you have a client whose legal matter affects his or her visa or their sponsorship status, you can advise on both aspects of the issue. Family and criminal lawyers also regularly act for clients with immigration issues, such as a divorce for someone applying for a partner visa or making sentencing submissions for any visa holder before the criminal courts.
“Corporate lawyers can also benefit from practising in the space when assisting international businesses establish operations in Australia and recruit foreign workers.
“Offering immigration law advice and services can expand the capacity of a legal professional or a practice significantly.”
What training is available?
For this reason, Nomos approached The College of Law to offer CPD courses for immigration lawyers in 2017. In addition to spending their careers in immigration law, both Viegas and Papadopoulos have extensive experience in education. Papadopoulos founded Migration Practice Essentials with Victorian barrister Roz Germov, while Viegas and Papadopoulos’ firm Nomos runs both MARA-approved CPD and bespoke training programmes for law firms.
“The first course we offer, Foundations in Immigration Law, is going to give people a teaser of what immigration law is about,” Papadopoulos said.
“It will demystify how to contend with the labyrinthine visa application process that has been the realm of migration agents for many years.”
“It will also seek to educate lawyers in many practice area-specific skills,” Viegas added.
“Immigration law is unique in that practitioners deal more with a government department than a court, which is different to a lot of other areas of law. We plan to share our insights into this particular aspect of practice in our courses.”
For those who already have experience in immigration law, Nomos will run the more advanced Masterclass Series in Immigration Law later in the year.
“This will be a more advanced course for people who want to undertake CPD by immigration lawyers for immigration lawyers,” Papadopoulos said.
“We’ll run it at a faster pace for those who are already familiar with practising immigration law. There will be focus on key practice areas and recent developments in the immigration portfolio along with an exploration of recent significant migration decisions by the AAT and the courts.”
Beyond sharing their knowledge as accredited specialists in immigration law and helping their colleagues enter the field, Viegas and Papadopoulos are eager to exchange knowledge with lawyers from other practice areas.
“We are looking forward to hearing perspectives from and exchanging ideas with our colleagues in employment law, criminal law, corporate law, family law, and other disciplines,” Papadopoulos said.
“Some of the most interesting comments in our interactive CPD workshops have come from lawyers from different practice areas, who apply what we teach in ways we may not have considered.”
Foundations in Immigration Law will be offered on 23 March and 19 July 2017. Masterclass Series in Immigration Law will be run on 16 June and 15 November 2017. To register for either course, click here.