August 10, 2016


You’ve made the decision to migrate to Australia and you’ve started planning your move, right down to what you’ll pack in your suitcases. But before you get to that, you need to organise a visa. Friends have told you to get help from a professional based in Australia. You look into it and discover that both lawyers and migration agents offer visa application services. So which do you choose? And how?

Migration agent registration

Under Australian law, any person practising migration law must be a registered migration agent. Even if they are a lawyer, they must be registered as a migration agent.

So every migration lawyer is a registered migration agent. On the other hand, not every migration agent is a lawyer.

Qualifications and work experience

One of the main differences between migration agents and migration lawyers is qualification.

To practise law in Australia, a lawyer must have completed appropriate tertiary studies, must be admitted to practise law and must also hold a Practising Certificate, which is in effect a licence to practice law.

A migration agent who is not a lawyer does not have a legal Practising Certificate and so cannot practise law. They can only carry out migration work, for example visa applications.

Migration lawyers have the advantage of being able to practise in various areas of law and keep up to date with various law changes and requirements. This allows them to provide a holistic service and advice to their clients not only on migration maters but also other potential legal traps.

A common example is skilled work visa issues for both employer and employees. If the migration advice does not take into account any wider employment issues, serious consequences could follow, including court action as well as federal penalties.

A migration agent cannot give legal advice about whether a migrant’s terms of employment are fair, or whether those terms breach any other legislation.

Holistic legal approach

A holistic legal approach is important for every visa. Migration lawyers are often contacted by applicants or visa holders who find themselves in trouble as they were not made aware of other potential legal issues that affected their migration status.

In partner visas, many people do not understand the interaction between the family law legislation and migration legislation. And people on student visas often do not understand the importance of employment law on their work conditions. These are important matters that require legal advice from a lawyer.

Lawyers also have advocacy skills for court and tribunal hearings. If your application is rejected or your visa is cancelled, you may wish to appeal the decision. Relying on the expertise and advocacy skills of a lawyer provides you with the best chance of success.

In many instances migration agents hire barristers and/or lawyers to represent their clients in such circumstances. This can significantly increase the cost for their clients.

Lawyers sometimes also hire barristers, but usually only for complex cases. Some appeals can only be conducted by a lawyer with a current Practising Certificate. Clients can find themselves in shock after spending money on a migration agent to find that they will need to hire a lawyer anyway and will have to pay the lawyer to familiarise themselves with their case all over again.


Many people choose a migration agent instead of a lawyer due to the cost difference. Migration agents are sometimes significantly cheaper than lawyers. You might believe your application is straightforward and so you don’t think a lawyer is necessary. However, every application has its difficulties no matter how simple it may seem.

Rejection of application

The consequences of a rejection or cancellation of a visa can also be very significant and may affect every visa application you submit afterwards, including visa applications for other countries. Keep in mind that most countries require you to disclose if you have ever had a visa rejected or cancelled.

The best way to avoid these complications is to make sure you get the right lawyer to help you with your application from the start. What might appear to be a cheap option at the beginning may not always be the cheapest at the end.

Websters Lawyers are experienced migration lawyers with migration agent registration. We practise in a large range of legal areas which means that we can meet your legal needs, no matter what the issue. Contact us today for a free first consultation.