The difference between a Migration Agent and an Immigration Lawyer in Australia

Migration, although a costly and complex process, is one of the most profoundly life-changing decisions you’ll ever experience.

Such an important process requires assistance from a highly qualified, registered and regulated professional.

Currently, three categories of advisers are permitted to provide migration assistance to clients in Australia (although this may change soon).

Mygrate is partnered with professionals from all three categories, ensuring that your needs are well met. These three categories are listed as follows:

1. A Registered Migration Agent (RMA)

Currently, according to Australian Law, only Registered Migration Agents are permitted to provide ‘immigration assistance’ (as defined in s276 of the Migration Act 1958), with the exception of a sponsor, a close family member, a member of parliament or a government official providing assistance as part of their job.

However, Registered Migration Agents are not permitted to provide ‘immigration legal assistance’ (within the meaning of s277 of the Migration Act 1958).

2. Lawyers who are not registered as Migration Agents.

As a general rule, lawyers who are not registered as a Migration Agent can provide ‘immigration legal assistance’, but are not permitted to provide ‘immigration assistance’ (within the meaning of s276 of the Migration Act 1958).

3. Lawyers who are also registered as Migration Agents.

A Lawyer who is also registered as a Migration Agent can provide both ‘immigration legal assistance’ and ‘immigration assistance’ – they can assist and provide advice about both matters. A Lawyer with an RMA licence can help you prepare your documents, act as your proxy in court or before the tribunal and provide advice relating to all immigration matters. Often, a RMA Lawyer will be part of a larger law firm, in which case they can connect the client directly to complimentary legal services.

So, what is the difference between an RMA and an RMA lawyer if they can both provide immigration assistance?

Both Registered Migration Agents and RMA Lawyers can provide you with immigration assistance. So, how are they different? And how do you choose which professional will best suit your needs? As you’ve just read above, both RMAs and RMA Lawyers can provide immigration assistance to clients, but how do they differ from each other?

There are several differences – below is a list.

  1. Training and Education

Qualification: Lawyers study for 3 years (minimum) at a university level to obtain their legal degree. As a non-lawyer, an individual undergoes 6 months of study before obtaining a certificate to apply to be a Migration Agent.

Migration Agents have to complete a 1-year Postgraduate degree, meaning they generally already have to hold a Bachelor degree in order to access this course. Specifically, a Graduate Diploma in Australian Migration Law and Practice is what both Migration Agents and Lawyers equally have to complete to be able to practice in this field. Hence when it comes to migration matters the professional preparation is to be considered equal as both parties have to adhere to OMARA’s Code of Conduct and provide confidentiality and high professional standards to all clients regardless of their past studies.

Experience: Australian immigration law is incredibly complex and forever changing. As such, Lawyers will not only train in immigration law but also how to analyse, interpret and apply Australian legislation and case law. Both RMAs and RMA Lawyers will have different levels of experience providing immigration advice.

Advocacy: Lawyers are experienced in preparing legal submissions and identifying issues of evidence and proof. They will advocate for you in court or before a tribunal, and present your case in the best way possible within the requirements of Australian legislation.
It is important to note that a non-lawyer RMA cannot represent you in court nor provide you with legal advice in relation to immigration matters, however, for immigration purpose solely, an RMA is more than qualified to assist you.

Supervision: Along with their university degree, Lawyers are required to complete a period of supervised practical legal work experience. Non-Lawyer Registered Migration Agents are not required to complete any similar work experience; they are officially qualified to provide ‘immigration advice’ as soon as they are registered.

Continuous Training: Both Lawyers and Migration Agents need to comply with continuing professional development requirements.

  1. Legal Advice

A non-lawyer Registered Migration Agent is qualified to provide immigration assistance, however, they are prohibited from providing any kind of legal advice. Immigration matters can sometimes go hand-in-hand with other associated issues such as tax law, family law, employment law, property law, commercial law and criminal law – an RMA Lawyer is both permitted and qualified to advise on these matters.

  1. Ethical Standards, Regulation and Professional Conduct

All Registered Migration Agents are required to comply with the OMARA Code of Conduct. RMA Lawyers are required to comply with this same code, along with the strict ethical and professional standards expected of a legal practitioner and an Officer of the Court. Effectively, RMA Lawyers are subjected to dual regulation and are answerable to two different regulatory bodies.

Legal Professional Privilege (Confidentiality)

Both RMAs and Lawyers have a professional responsibility to keep their clients’ details and affairs strictly confidential. However, only Lawyers can claim the protection of legal professional privilege for their clients.

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