New law to exempt lawyers from registration with office of migration agents registration authority

Integrate Legal Principal Rita Chowdhury discusses the Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill 2018 and its impact on lawyers working in Australian immigration law. The Bill is currently before the Senate. Rita will chair the Legalwise Migration Workshop: Regional Migration Pathways Seminar in March, which will explore the Government’s work visa scheme to help spread migration into regional areas and away from densely-populated cities.

Rita Chowdhury

Last year, the Australian Federal Government introduced the Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill 2018 into Parliament. The Bill, which was initially expected to come into effect on 30 June 2019[1] but will now more likely be in 2020, amends existing legislation under the Migration Amendment Act (No. 3) 1992 (Cth) and the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) (‘the Act’), where sections 280 and 281 together create a general prohibition on a person who is not a registered migration agent from providing or charging fees for “immigration assistance”.[2]

The new legislation exempts lawyers from registration with the Office of Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA). This means that lawyers currently or looking to practice Australian immigration law will be regulated entirely by their relevant State or Territory legal professional bodies.


This proposed amendment follows recommendations from the 2014 Independent Review of the OMARA (‘the Kendall Review’),[3] and has long been supported by the Australian government. Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells highlights the importance of the Bill in removing unnecessary red tape, and states that the current system of dual regulation ‘poses an unnecessary burden on such lawyer agents, who are already subject to a strict professional regulatory scheme’.[4]

The impact on lawyers wanting to specialise in immigration law

Some concerns have been expressed about the changes – specifically, whether such deregulation could cause an influx of new lawyers entering this practice space,[5] and also whether the new legislation puts clients at risk of receiving incompetent legal advice from practitioners who do not have the knowledge or skills in this complex area of law practice.[6]

However, the legal profession regulatory bodies and schemes – such as the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW) and Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014 for practitioners in NSW – already hold high and strict professional standards for legal practitioners and there are harsh penalties for improper conduct by legal practitioners. Moreover, compensation is available for affected clients.

Migration law is a highly specialised and complex area, so it is unlikely that lawyers will enter this space without first undertaking proper training to develop a strong knowledge base and skillset required for migration law practice.

Rita Chowdhury is the Principal of boutique immigration law firm Integrate Legal. Rita has more than 18 years’ experience in immigration law and was the inaugural Lawyers Weekly Partner of the Year (Migration) in 2016. Before establishing her own law firm, Rita developed and led immigration law practices at large international law firms and at one of the big four accounting firms. Rita has taught subjects in the Australian National University’s Graduate Diploma of Migration Law. She was an active member of the Migration Institute of Australia’s professional development program and remains an accredited educator at the MIA. A sought-after conference speaker, Rita was one of the few Australian immigration lawyers asked to present at the International Bar Association’s 2017 Annual Conference in Sydney. Her work has been published by leading legal publishing houses, including Lexis Nexus, CCH and Thompson Reuters.

Contact Rita at You can also connect with Integrate Legal via LinkedIn and Instagram 


[1] Most recent updated explanatory memorandum (with amendments to schedules)


[3] Lawyers Weekly article, 6 October 2017

[4] Senator Concetta Fioretta-Wells, Second Reading Speech, 8 May 2018:;fileType=application%2Fpdf


[6] Senator Concetta Fioretta-Wells, Second Reading Speech, 8 May 2018:;fileType=application%2Fpdf