For a long time, any Australian lawyer looking to practise immigration law had to register as a migration agent and maintain that registration by, among other things, paying an annual registration fee to the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA) and completing OMARA-approved CPD.
However, with pending legislation set to remove legal practitioners from the Migration Agents Registration Scheme, along with changes by OMARA exempting legal practitioners from the requirement to complete OMARA approved CPD, conditions are improving for both existing and prospective immigration lawyers.
To cater to those legal practitioners already working in the immigration space as well as the expected influx of legal practitioners seeking to practise in the field once MARA deregulation occurs, The College of Law has partnered with accredited immigration law specialist Peter Papadopoulos. Together, they are offering a series of CPD courses for both aspiring and established immigration lawyers.
Insights spoke to Peter Papadopoulos about how these CPD courses have been informed by his 25 years’ experience as an immigration lawyer, and what legal practitioners can hope to gain from upskilling in immigration law.
“There are currently just over 7,200 registered migration agents in Australia – over 2,400 of whom are practising lawyers,” Papadopoulos said.
“For the past twenty years, these legal practitioners have also needed to register as migration agents in order to offer the full suite of immigration law services to their clients.”
Papadopoulos refers to the inclusion of legal practitioners 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 OMARA. Among other things, the review concluded that legal practitioners 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 will be implemented on the passage of the Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill, will mean that Australian legal practitioners will no longer need to be registered as migration agents. This will alleviate the burden of dual regulation altogether.
This bill is scheduled to be reintroduced into Parliament before the end of 2019.
What does this mean for lawyers?
While this will be of immense value to the 2,400 legal practitioners already practising immigration law, this change will also create a wealth of possibility for the other 70,000 legal practitioners currently not practising in the field.
“By practising immigration law, a legal practitioner can offer more services to existing clients as well as attract new ones,” Papadopoulos 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?
Since 2017, Papadopoulos has worked closely with the College of Law to deliver CPD courses providing practical, foundational knowledge in immigration law.
In addition to conducting seminars and workshops on various aspects of the skilled, family and humanitarian migration programs, Peter enjoys sharing knowledge and insights into more complex immigration issues including automated decision-making, the health criteria, character, immigration compliance, and fraud.
“Foundations in Immigration Law is proving extremely popular,” Papadopoulos said. “It provides a good overview of what immigration law is about and aims to demystify how legal practitioners can contend with the labyrinthine visa application process that has been the realm of migration agents for many years.”
“It also helps to educate legal practitioners in many practice area-specific skills,” Papadopoulos said.
“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. That is why I share insights into this particular critical aspect of practice in the course.”
“In addition to providing the nuts and bolts of handling immigration and dealing with the department, I also explore key practice areas and recent developments in the immigration portfolio, along with insights into handling ethical dilemmas as well as running merits and judicial review applications.
“Furthermore, the political nature of the immigration system will be explored, as well as how to secure positive outcomes through this system.”
Beyond sharing his knowledge as a leading practitioner in the field, Papadopoulos is actively involved in immigration reform, working closely with government on a range of matters.
Papadopoulos is eager to facilitate discussion and knowledge exchange with legal practitioners from other practice areas as part of this CPD course.
“I really enjoy hearing perspectives from and exchanging ideas with my colleagues in employment law, criminal law, corporate law, family law, and other disciplines,” Papadopoulos said.
“Some of the most interesting comments in my interactive CPD workshops have come from lawyers from different practice areas, who apply what we teach in ways we may not have considered.”