The Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security, the Hon Clare O’Neil MP, established a Rapid Review into the exploitation of Australia’s Visa System after media allegations of visa rorts, migrant worker exploitation, sex trafficking, and Registered Migration Agent (RMA) misconduct were aired in Oct/Nov 2022. Ms Christine Nixon AO, APM was tapped to lead the review.

The review looked into the gaps and weaknesses in Australia’s visa system and how they were being exploited by unscrupulous people for money laundering and other criminal activities. The review makes 34 recommendations to prevent, deter, and sanction individuals who seek to exploit vulnerabilities within Australia’s visa system that directly affects migrant workers.

The government, in its commitment to combat this abhorrent behaviour, has agreed-in-principle to 24 of the 34 recommendations. The Government continues to undertake work in relation to the Nixon Review, including developing policies to enact additional recommendations.

Regulation of RMAs

The government recognises the threat to the immigration system from an unlawful provider of immigration assistance (UPIA). Such individuals pose a significant threat to Australia’s migration program by exploiting it to enable the entry and stay of non-genuine migrants, including to facilitate unlawful activities on behalf of criminal syndicates.

The Nixon Review recommends that regulation of RMAs be strengthened to stop the exploitation of Australia’s migration system.

What will change for RMAs?

RMAs offer a valuable service to those seeking professional assistance in navigating Australia’s migration framework. The vast majority of RMAs abide by migration laws and regulations and comply with the RMA Code of Conduct. For those RMAs who do the right thing, the strengthened regulation will have minimal impact.

First time applicants seeking to be registered and RMAs applying to renew their registration need to meet character-related criteria. Currently this involves providing evidence of a National Police Check, which will soon be replaced by a background check conducted through AusCheck.

An AusCheck assessment will be required every two years, or earlier if the OMARA specifically makes a request. Professional and law-abiding RMAs will benefit from greater scrutiny of unscrupulous RMAs and other UPIAs from the migration advice industry. Unscrupulous RMAs and UPIAs will face higher penalties and increased scrutiny from the OMARA and the Department of Home Affairs.

Measures to assess unscrupulous RMAs

RMAs are regulated by the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA). The OMARA is a body established within the DHA and has the powers to assess a registration applicant’s character. The OMARA will refuse an application if it is satisfied that the applicant is not a person of integrity or not fit and proper to provide immigration assistance.

The Nixon Review has made many recommendations to strengthen the character requirements of RMAs. Below we capture some of the key changes to be implemented based on the review:

  • Comprehensive background checks be required on initial and repeat RMA applications, and as directed by the OMARA.
  • RMAs should have a positive obligation to ensure their clients understand Australian workplace rights and protections and how to report migrant worker exploitation.
  • Extension of anti-money laundering reforms to include RMAs, education agents, and privately owned VET providers.
  • Establish a proactive compliance capability within the OMARA. This would require prohibiting RMAs from providing advice to certain industries or about certain visa types.
  • Increase the compliance and investigative powers of the OMARA to address misconduct by RMAs.
  • Increased financial penalties for misconduct related to the provision of migration advice.
  • The requirement to register with the OMARA should be extended to offshore migration agents.
  • Undertake a trusted branding exercise, so that RMAs are readily identifiable to individuals seeking Australian immigration advice.

What does more compliance and investigative powers for OMARA mean?

OMARA’s increased investigative capabilities will not alter its overall purpose. For example, it is not suggested that the OMARA will become an enforcement agency; where potential fraud or other Act offences are identified, these will continue to be referred to the ABF or other law enforcement agencies for further investigation.

How will these measures benefit Australians?

Strengthening Australia’s migration advice industry will benefit all Australians, by ensuring the integrity of our visa system and providing added protection to consumers of immigration assistance.

Increased protections will deter and penalise unscrupulous individuals who use their understanding of Australia’s migration laws to facilitate corrupt and even criminal activity. This will make Australia a safer place for all those who want to visit, work and live.