31 July 2009

Lawyers concern over Australian immigration agent regulator move

The Australian government decision to give oversight of migration agents to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship breaches the findings of its own report last year into the industry, The Australian newspaper has reported.

The report last year into the Australia migration industry recommended the establishment of an independent regulatory body.

The Australian reported that it is understood the Law Council of Australia is concerned that solicitors, as officers of the court, could be subject as migration agents to regulation by an arm of the executive government.

The Australian Government promised earlier this week to weed out unscrupulous migration agents amid protests by Indian students of exploitation involving Australia visa fees and tertiary course dishonest dealings.

The new Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA) replaces the system established in 1998 where migration advice was provided by the Migration Institute of Australia (MIA).

While admitting the need for reform, migration lawyers told The Australian the incorporation of MARA within the Department of Immigration compromised hopes of an independent regulatory body.

"We've now got a regulator with a vested interest in running out of the profession people they don't like - not just people who are shonky or incompetent but people they don't like," said Brisbane-based migration lawyer Bruce Henry.

"And the response from the minister's office to that is: It will be all right - they'll be building Chinese walls within the department to make sure those sorts of things don't happen.

"But they know human beings just don't work like that."

Mr Henry said the move involved "basic issues ... for lawyers".

"What happens the first time I get a request from the department for access to my client files?

"They [the department] have a power under the legislation to access my client files, but I don't think I can give the files to them.

"I'm in breach of my statutory obligation and can be prosecuted but I'll be buggered if I'm going to give a client file to the Immigration Department, regardless of whether they are pretending to be the MARA or not - I'm just not going to."


The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people with their Australia visa applications. 

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