Emigrating to Australia with a migration agent? Changes to MARA are coming...

- Posted in Australia by Laurenon 26 March 2009

As we reported in February, the Australian Immigration Minister has made the decision to move the responsibility of maintaining the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA) to the government, in response to the concerns raised regarding fraudulent migration agents taking advantage of individuals emigrating to Australia. Previously regulated by the Migration Institute of Australia (MIA), Minister Chris Evans has stated that the MARA will be handed over to the government as of 1 July 2009 and be renamed the Office of the MARA. 

According to Senator Evans, the new regulatory framework will "administer the function through a discrete office attached to the Department [of Immigration and Citizenship], headed by a specifically designated senior officer, solely responsible for MARA activities."

It's hard to argue against the Senator's concerns that the integrity of the MARA is somewhat tarnished when agents have to regulate their co-workers. There are around 3,700 agents that need monitoring for "unprofessional, incompetent or unethical behaviour" and when a person's chance of a better life as a result of emigrating to Australia hangs in the balance, a regulatory body needs to ensure that correct and lawful advice is given to migrants. 

Arguments can be made both for and against the change.  One concern I have is that, as an office of the government, the MARA will lose the communication channel it had with migrants while serving as a functioning arm of the MIA. As MIA members are migration agents themselves, they facilitate communication between themselves and migrants, resulting in a positive sharing of knowledge in such places as the MIA online forum, where agents can discuss migration issues and stay ahead of the game.

Additionally, as MARA is removed from such close communication with the public, its entirely possible that they will instead take on the interests of DIAC, although it remains to be seen how influential the motivations of the government will be.

There is also a strong argument for control of MARA being taken away from MIA though.  One of the problems in the past is that MIA would be unable to assist or represent a member in relation to any MARA-related complaint as they were the body in control of both associations. Clearly, this defeats the purpose of MIA existing as the professional body for migration agents as they are esentially rendered unable to help when aid is most needed by one of their members.

Some members have justified this conflict of interests by reasoning that having DIAC act as the controllers of MARA would result in their agenda be compromised to suit the needs of the government, which would be a far worse proposition than the current arrangement (even with its flows). However, when you consider that the duties of controlling MARA is preventing MIA from helping and representing its members, it seems like not only should these responsibilities be lifted from MIA but they should never have been made to burden them in the first place. 

With MIA shedded of its MARA function, it will be able to concentrate on what it was originally established to do: provide aid and assistance to the legitimate migration agents who are trying to help genuine candidates emigrating to Australia. Additionally, should DIAC ever unfairly perform its MARA functions, at least migration agents will have the comfort of knowing that MIA will be able to truly assist in any disputes.

- Lauren Mennie is Casework Department Manager for the Australian Visa Bureau