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Migration Strategy to ‘significantly impact’ legal profession

A “milestone year” lies ahead for migration lawyers with the Albanese government’s newly released Migration Strategy, meaning 2024 will be a period of adaptation and upskilling.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 20 December 2023 Politics
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A 10-year approach to migration

Australian migration lawyers, Reuben Saul mused in conversation with Lawyers Weekly, experienced a “whirlwind of change” in the last few months, with the design of the new Administrative Review Tribunal making its way to Parliament and a 20-year-old High Court precedent on indefinite detention was decisively overturned.

Now, the federal government has unveiled its Migration Strategy for the coming decade, which he said “represents a roots and branch transformation of the visa program that will reshape our sector in many ways”.


The Migration Strategy, unveiled earlier this month, gives rise to the “biggest reforms to migration in a generation”, the relevant ministers said in a joint statement, following a review that found the migration system had been deliberately neglected, was “so badly broken” and required a “10-year rebuild”.

The strategy focuses on five key objectives. The government has proclaimed to raise living standards, ensure a fair go in the workplace, build stronger communities, strengthen international relationships, and “[make] the system work by being fast, efficient, and fair for migrants and employers”.

Sustainability, investment in skills, and revamped visas are front and centre of the new approach.

For Mr Saul, there are three key insights for practitioners: a “clear drive” to cut through red tape, a strong focus on “taking meaningful steps to restore the integrity to our international education system”, and that the federal government “wants to differentiate itself from its predecessors by reducing Australia’s permanently temporary working population and enhancing pathways to permanent residency”.

The impact on legal practitioners

Such changes mean that 2024 is “gearing up to be a milestone year in Australian migration law”, noted Mr Saul, who is a partner at Estrin Saul Lawyers and the national president of the Migration Institute of Australia.

The strategy will, Dentons dispute resolution and migration partner Debrah Mercurio noted, “significantly impact” lawyers, law firms and their clients.

Gilton Valeo Lawyers partner Fiona Wong – who won the migration category at the 2023 Partner of the Year Awards – supported this, noting the changes are “necessitating vigilance” from practitioners.

As the strategy seeks to revamp skilled visas by simplifying some of the unnecessarily complex processes to make the migration system fast, efficient, and fair, the landscape of legal counsel and migration advisory will be greatly affected,” Ms Mercurio opined.

“A significant proposal of the strategy is the creation of a new Skills in Demand visa, which will provide three pathways, each targeted to different labour market requirements. Notably, the Specialist Skills Pathway abandons the restrictive occupation lists, and the Core Skills Pathway will have one list containing occupations identified by Jobs and Skills Australia as being in shortage.”

“The reduction of the number of visas proposed by the strategy may also help transform the migration system to provide a more streamlined approach to considering visa types based on eligibility criteria and will change the way that lawyers provide advice to their clients,” Ms Mercurio continued.

“Rather than rigid occupation lists which determine the visa type to apply for, lawyers will need to adapt to a framework driven by identified skills shortages.”

For Ms Wong, close monitoring of policy shifts and regulatory updates, as well as proactive case assessment, will be fundamental for practitioners in this space moving forward.

Moreover, enhanced communication and transparency will be key, especially during times of regulatory uncertainty: “With the amount of information being released by the government during this period, it can get very confusing for clients.

“Lawyers should keep clients informed about the potential impacts of the migration review on their circumstances, manage expectations realistically, and provide guidance on the available options over the next 12 months,” she suggested.

Ms Wong added, lawyers should actively engage in advocacy efforts to influence positive outcomes for their clients and the broader community.

“Collaborating with other legal professionals, industry stakeholders, unions and community organisations can amplify the collective voice and promote fair and just immigration policies,” she posited.

A new era in 2024?

Ultimately, for migration lawyers and registered migration agents, Mr Saul concluded, 2024 “won’t be just another year”.

Rather, he submitted, it promises to be a year of adaptation and upskilling.

“This means staying abreast of legislative updates and actively engaging with the migration law community to share insights and strategies,” he advised.

“Entering 2024 with a mindset of continuous learning and flexibility will be key to thriving in what is set to be one of the most transformative years for migration law in Australia in recent decades.”

For law firms, Ms Mercurio reflected, the shift in the migration system proposed by the strategy presents both challenges and opportunities.

“Given the extent of the proposed changes, to be implemented from July 2024, it will be essential to quickly understand them and keep up to date with what will be evolving migration law and policy in a relatively short period of time,” she concluded.

“Overall, a number of the proposals in the strategy will be a great step forward in moving the Australian migration system in a better direction. How it will work in practice remains to be seen – the devil will be in the detail.”

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